The Situationist

Archive for September 20th, 2008

The Situation of Body Temperature

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 20, 2008

Benedict Carey has an interesting story in the Herald Tribune, “A Cold Stare Can Make You Crave Some Heat.”  Here’s a sample.

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For every congenial character who can warm a room, there’s another who can bring a draft from the north, a whiff of dead winter. And even if the thermometer doesn’t register the difference, people do: social iciness feels so cold to those on the receiving end that they will crave a hot drink, a new study has found.

The paper, appearing in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science, is the latest finding from the field of embodied cognition, in which researchers have shown that the language of metaphor can activate physical sensations, and vice versa.

Just as spreading a bad rumor can make people feel literally dirty, so did research subjects who felt socially excluded perceive a significantly lower room temperature than those who felt included.

“We know that being excluded is psychologically painful,” said the lead author, Chen-Bo Zhong, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, “and here we found that it feels just like it’s described in metaphors,” like icy stare and frosty reception.

[Situationist contributor] John Bargh, a psychologist at Yale who was not involved in the research, said the finding made “perfect sense.” In an e-mail message, he noted that a brain region called the insula tracks both body temperature and general psychological states, and it may be here where social perceptions and sensations of warmth or coldness are fused.

In the new paper, Dr. Zhong and Geoffrey J. Leonardelli, also a psychologist at Toronto, describe two experiments.

In one, they split 65 students into two groups, instructing those in one to recall a time when they felt socially rejected, and those in the other to summon a memory of social acceptance.

Many of the students were recent immigrants and had fresh memories of being isolated in the dorms, left behind while roommates went out, Dr. Zhong said.

The researchers then had each of the participants estimate the temperature in the lab room. The students who had recalled being excluded estimated the temperature to be, on average, 5 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the others.

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To read the rest of the article, including a description of their fascinating second experiment, click here. To read a few related Situationist posts, see “Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part III,” and”The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV.”

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