October 23, 2008
Temperature Of Held Objects Influences Behavior

Free will is an illusion. Even a cup of coffee manipulates you in ways you can't tell. Even a cold or hot cup of coffee temporarily held in a person's hands can act like a puppeteer manipulating human emotions and behavior.

In the first study, Williams and John A. Bargh, a psychology professor at Yale University, found that holding a hot cup of coffee leads people to judge a stranger to be a warmer person, in terms of such traits as generosity and kindness, compared with a group of people who held a cup of iced coffee.

In a second study, they had people hold either a warm or cold object (therapeutic hot or cold pads), and then gave them a choice of reward for participating in the study: either a gift for a friend, or a reward for themselves.

"We found that people who held the hot pad were more likely to choose the gift for a friend, and people who held the cold pack were more likely to choose the reward for themselves," Williams said. "Both of these effects occurred without people's awareness of the possible effects of temperature."

Hand a friend something hot to hold before you ask for a favor.

"We found that people who held the hot pad were more likely to choose the gift for a friend, and people who held the cold pack were more likely to choose the reward for themselves," Williams said. "Both of these effects occurred without people's awareness of the possible effects of temperature."

People are incredibly sensitive to cues in their physical environments, Williams said. "The metaphorical relationship between physical temperatures and interpersonal warm or cold feelings is not haphazard or accidental, but reveals something interesting about the way the mind works, in that a cue from the physical domain can have such a meaningful impact on psychological outcomes," he said.

Never mind that old saying "cold hands, warm heart". The truth of the matter is "cold hands, cold heart".

In a similar study, Williams repeated the same experiment using not coffee, but hot and cold compress pads. To eliminate any inadvertent influence on the experiment by the confederate, the study subjects were asked to retrieve either a hot or cold pad and to evaluate it under the guise of a product test.

After rating the effectiveness of the pads, the study subjects were given a choice of reward for participating in the study: either a Snapple beverage or a $1 gift certificate to a local ice cream shop. In some cases the reward offer was framed as a gift to "treat a friend" and in others as a personal reward. Regardless of which gift was offered, those primed with coldness were more likely to choose a gift for themselves, while those primed with warmth were more likely to choose the gift for a friend.

"Experiences of physical temperature per se affect one's impressions of and pro-social behavior toward other people, without one's awareness of such influences," said Williams. "At a board meeting, for instance, 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. In a restaurant, it's been shown that wait staff who touch customers usually get a better tip. It's a nice gesture, but it also has a warming effect."

Williams said the research could have marketing implications because it shows just how strong the bond is between the physical and the psychological world.

"In a point-of-service or communications interaction, paying attention to the fact that customers are tied to the physical world in which buying behavior occurs is important," said Williams. "If you are running a promotion outdoors on a cold day, maybe giving away a warm cookie will help you make connections with consumers. It gives marketers and managers more tools to work with."

Scientists will find many more ways that environmental cues can alter human behavior.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 October 23 09:43 PM  Brain Economics


Comments
Jun said at October 24, 2008 6:58 AM:

"Free will is an illusion."

Yes. THANK you!

bbm said at October 24, 2008 5:41 PM:

There's a big difference between saying that the environment influences our behavior and that we have no free will.

Ramez Naam said at October 24, 2008 5:56 PM:

Gives truth to "too hot to handle".

-mez

Shannon Love said at October 24, 2008 11:14 PM:

This doesn't show that free will is an illusion but rather that the brain integrates far more inputs than we are consciously aware of. This is what creates "intuition". In this case, the brain probably associates warm objects with touching another human. In evolutionary times, that would have been true more often than not.

Randall Parker said at October 25, 2008 1:09 PM:

bbm, Shannon,

The heat of a held object causes us to behave differently. We are not aware of why we behaved differently. We did not consciously will ourselves to behave differently. Unbeknownst to us the environment modified our behavior. Yet we go and do something as a result and imagine our action was the result of a decision we had "control" over.

The fact that the brain integrates inputs we aren't aware of and does so in a way that seems hardwired suggests to me that at best we have partial free will. Not sure what it means to have partial free will. But then the idea that we have free will in the first place doesn't make sense to me.

bbm said at October 25, 2008 2:14 PM:

Randall,

We don't know if the study really shows that. However, T have little doubt that some of our decisions are heavily influenced by our environments. Maybe so heavily determined so as to be effectively determined.

But that does not mean that we do not have free will. To prove that we do not, you'd have to prove that every decision we make in all circumstances is determined by the environment. Even reflective, introspective decisions.

We are very far from demonstrating that.

If we do not have free will and all of our actions are determined in advance through environmental stimuli that are determined by their own antecedent causes, then the implication would be that everything that happens is inevitable, and has been determined since just after the Big Bang.

Jun said at October 26, 2008 2:13 AM:

"To prove that we do not, you'd have to prove that every decision we make in all circumstances is determined by the environment."

No. Not just that every decision we make is determined by environmental factors, but that the "decisions" we make are determined by our genetics + our environment.

If someone's got, say, a package of genes that predisposes them toward borderline personality disorder (BPD) AND grows up/lives in an environment that promotes BPD in someone who has that package of genes, when then their behavior patterns are BPD in nature, where is the free will? They might *think* and *feel* that they've chosen to, whatever, blow-up at their spouse or kids or whomever, but have they?

Same thing can be said for someone who functions perfectly normally in society -- has a good job, is able to keep it, has a good family life, friends, etc.... They just happen to have the right package of genes that predisposes them toward being functional AND, very likely, grew up/live in an environment that promotes normal, successful behavior.

Free will is not necessary. It's not obvious that it should exist at all.

bbm said at October 26, 2008 6:37 PM:

I agree that free will is not "necessary".

But proving that all decisions are determined, rather than just influenced, by genes and environment, is a very tall order.

Again, if all decisions and actions are determined, then they are also pre-determined, inevitable, and have been at least since 10E-43 seconds after the big bang as I argued above.

Lono said at October 27, 2008 12:01 PM:

You sure this isn't much like the "Jedi Mind Trick" - something that also only works on Densans?

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