Two experiments, reported in the 24 October issue of Science, suggest that the physical feeling of warmth makes people judge others more favorably and act more generously.
For the first experiment, psychologist Lawrence Williams (ScienceCareers, 2 March 2007) of the University of Colorado, Boulder, recruited 41 undergraduate students. When they walked into the laboratory, they were casually asked to hold a hot or cold cup of coffee for a moment. They were then given a brief fictional description of “Person A” and asked to rate 10 personality traits based on this summary. The students weren’t aware that holding the cup was part of the experiment, but the “effect is quite meaningful and astonishing,” says Williams. Those who held hot cups were more likely to assign positive traits, such as “generous,” “caring,” or “sociable” to Person A than those who held the cold cups.
The second experiment of the study was presented as a product evaluation study, in which 53 participants were asked to hold hot or cold therapeutic pads for a moment and then judge the quality of the product. At the end of the test, as a “reward” for their participation, they could choose either a reward for themselves or a voucher to give to a friend. Among those who handled a hot therapeutic pad, 54% chose the voucher for a friend, but only 25% of those who held the cold pad did.
The findings show that the perception of warmth and coldness has a clear effect on people’s perceptions and social behaviors, Williams says.