Can holding a warm cup of coffee make you feel warm feelings toward someone else? Does a cold cup cause you to give somebody the cold shoulder? It seems unlikely. But new research suggests that heat sensations and psychological warmth are actually linked in our minds.
More than 41 college students participated in the study, which was conducted by NIH-funded scientists at Yale University. Each student was met in the lobby of a building by a woman carrying a cup of coffee. During the elevator ride up, she asked the participants to hold her cup for a second while she wrote something down. Half the participants were given a cup of hot coffee and half iced coffee.
Upstairs, they filled out a questionnaire about a fictitious person that was described to them. The described person was perceived to have significantly more “warm” personality traits by participants who had held the hot coffee cup. Those who’d held the iced coffee perceived the fictitious person to have a “colder” personality. The coffee temperature didn’t affect the ratings on other traits unrelated to warm or cold ideas.
In another set of experiments, the scientists found that temperature could also affect behavior. Students primed with physical coldness were more likely to choose a gift for themselves, whereas those primed with physical warmth were more likely to choose the gift for a friend.
The scientists concluded that our experience of physical temperature affects our thoughts and behaviors toward other people, even though we’re not aware of it. This finding has many practical implications, says lead researcher Dr. Lawrence E. Williams. “Being willing to reach out and touch another human being, to shake their hand, those experiences do matter, although we may not always be aware of them,” he says.