Friday, June 24, 2011

Warmness Improves Feelings of Social Isolation


See also Heat Therapy.

A 2008 study demonstrated that “Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth.” The idea is based on the fact that both physical and psychological 'warmth' (friendliness, helpfulness, trustworthiness, empathy, ) can be visualised in the insula. In the first part of the study in which participants were asked to hold a hot or cold beverage and then rate personality traits as either warm or cold. While the findings of this experiment were significant they were not great and the experiment wasn't double-blind. The authors also reported significant findings for the second part of the study (which was double-blind). However, in this experiment participants, after holding a hot or cold pack, were asked to choose between a fruit drink or a gift certificate for coffee. The authors state that this choice was phrased to the participants as a 'gift for yourself' or a 'gift for a friend,' but I don't believe that is an accurate way of measuring altruistic behaviour as the participants could still easily choose the gift certificate for themselves, despite the phrasing of the experimenters (a better way would be to offer them the option of donating a dollar to charity or taking a dollar for themselves).


A 2009 study consisting of three parts confirmed that physical warmth influences psychological warmth. In the first part “participants were handed either a warm or cold beverage and were then asked to rate perceived social proximity to another person.” In the second part participants were placed in a warm or cool room and then asked to describe a short film (the theory being that “If an increase in ambient
temperature would induce social proximity relative to when ambient temperature is low then
we would expect language use to mediate this relationship such that the description of social
events is relatively more concrete in warmer conditions.”) and also to rate perceived social proximity to the experimenter. The third part was the same as Experiment 2 (based on a different language theory) and included a perceptual focus task.

A 2011 study done in four parts also confirms the relationship between physical and psychological warmth. “In Study 1, higher scores on a measure of chronic loneliness (social coldness) were associated with an increased tendency to take warm baths or showers. In Study 2, a physical coldness manipulation significantly increased feelings of loneliness. In Study 3, needs for social affiliation and for emotion regulation, triggered by recall of a past rejection experience, were subsequently eliminated by an interpolated physical warmth experience. Study 4 provided evidence that people are not explicitly aware of the relation between physical and social warmth (coldness), as they do not consider a target person who often bathes to be any lonelier than one who does not, all else being equal.”


These studies indicate that the therapeutic process might benefit from the therapist keeping the office temperature on the warmer side. As well, one may be able to improve their general mood and social relationships by keeping warm or holding warm objects. When I write an article later on how to be nicer to people, I will cite this information.

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