Researchers Lawrence E. Williams and John A. Bargh have been looking at the effect of physical distance on social judgement and their recent study builds on that work. “The basic scientific implication is about exploring the link between the physical world and the psychogical world,” said Williams, “it’s at the same time subtle and very powerful—a repeated association of physical warmth that is learned over a lifetime.”
Williams noted that people naturally speak about others being “warm” or “cold,” and prefer to spend time with those they perceive as “warm.” Bargh said the results of their study suggest physical temperature affects not just the way we perceive others but also how we behave and act.
“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 … 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.”