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Why A Good Friend Has the Same Effect As a Warm Fire

“Vision,” Stanford’s Bill Newsome likes to say, “does not happen in the eye. It happens in the brain.” As I mentioned in my last post, this is a general theme in our understanding of the mind and brain: We don’t passively record “reality” and then process our perceptions. Rather, we actively create what we see, hear, taste, smell and feel. A nice new example is this experiment, which found that people feel warmer when standing near a loved one, and colder when they’re reminded that someone nearby doesn’t share their interests.

A growing body of research suggests that physical and psychological perceptions share common pathways. Experiments have already shown, for example, that physically warming up a room causes people in it to feel their relationships are closer. The question Hans Ijzerman and his colleagues took up in this paper was: Would this effect work in reverse? Instead of warming up social perceptions by heating the room, could you make people feel the room was toasty just by putting a loved one nearby?

Answer: Yes. Their paper, recently published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, compared temperature perceptions. On average, the people who stood close to a loved one guessed that the temperature in the lab was 2 degrees (Celsius) warmer than did those who weren’t experiencing that social and emotional connection. (Unfortunately, the work is behind an outrageously expensive paywall and the abstract is incomplete on ScienceDirect’s greedy website. So I’ve had to deduce some details from the abstract and Daily Mail article.)

Photo: Sophie Lair-Berreby

Ijzerman, H., & Semin, G. (2010). Temperature perceptions as a ground for social proximity Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.07.015


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