Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cold and Lonely

Here's a lovely little bit of social psychology. It shows that some of our common metaphors correlate with a genuine association in experience, in this case between social exclusion and physical coldness. If you don't have a subscription, you can currently get a preprint of the paper here. Among other mentions of this research in the media, is this piece in the New York Times.

This is the abstract:
Metaphors such as icy stare depict social exclusion using cold-related concepts; they are not to be taken literally and certainly do not imply reduced temperature. Two experiments, however, revealed that social exclusion literally feels cold. Experiment 1 found that participants who recalled a social-exclusion experience gave lower estimates of room temperature than did participants who recalled an inclusion experience. In Experiment 2, social exclusion was directly induced through an on-line virtual interaction, and participants who were excluded reported greater desire for warm food and drink than did participants who were included. These findings are consistent with the embodied view of cognition and support the notion that social perception involves physical and perceptual content. The psychologicalexperience of coldness not only aids understanding of social interaction, but also is an integral part of the experience of social exclusion.

The paper does pretty much what it says on the box. In experiment 1 a total of 65 subjects (undergraduate students, the rat of social psychology) were told they would perform a series of unrelated tasks. In the first they recalled either an experience where they felt very socialy excluded, or socially included. Then they were asked to estimate the temperature in the room. Subjects who had recalled being excluded gave lower estimates (their mean estimate was about 2.5 degrees Centrigrade lower) than subjects who had recalled being included.

In experiment 2 a total of 52 subjects played the popular cyberball game (in which a virtual ball is passed between the player and two virtual players, with the fraction of passes to the subject being a proxy for levels of inclusion). They were then asked to rate the desirability of 5 different products including a warm drink and a warm food and a cold drink and a cold food. Excluded subjects rated the warm food and drink as more desirable (by about 1 point on a 7 point Likert scale) than controls, while rating the cold food and drink neither better nor worse.

So if you're wondering whether your guests feel welcome or not, ask whether they want tea or a soda...

As so often with social psychology, the interesting result is described in terms of a fairly qualitative theory sketch in terms of 'schemas'. It would be good to know more about this from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience.

For related articles on this blog, see this one on morality and cleanliness (also with Chen-Bo Zhong as first author), and this one on social support and the perception of gradients.

Disclaimer: I have no idea whether the Jackie Frost Ensemble, or the "Cold Lonely Blues" are any good - the album cover image was just one of the top few hits for 'cold lonely' on Google Images.

Chen-Bo Zhong, Geoffrey J. Leonardelli (2008). Cold and Lonely: Does Social Exclusion Literally Feel Cold? Psychological Science, 19 (9), 838-842 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02165.x


Michael Meadon said...

I hate schemas. Srsly.

P.s. Welcome back to blogging

P.p.s. You should turn on the new blogger comment system - it makes things much easier. (Demo it on my blog, if you wish)

Doctor Spurt said...

Yeah, some day I'm going to write a good anti-schema tirade. & Thanks. & I'll check it out.

(Blogger is driving me nuts right now. It mysteriously refuses to have formatting buttons on either of my home computers no matter how much I update Firefox and Java, and the help documents are bollocks. Galileo didn't get his knackers squeezed by the inquisition so that we'd have to mark up html by hand.)

Michael Meadon said...

Hmmm... are you running either Distrust or Tor? (I.e. the Firefox addons). I know blogger misbehaves if these are active... Try disabling any new addons.

And, yeah, Google's help is really bad. Though, if you post on the help forum you should get a response in a couple of days...

Doctor Spurt said...

I'd already disabled everything except adblock and Google toolbar, and still no joy...


Anonymous said...

Nice stuff. We want more.

What's also cool is the stuff going in the other direction with temperature possibly affecting social beliefs.

Incidentally, I'd be interested to know what your anti-schema thoughts are.

John McCoy

Doctor Spurt said...

Thanks, John.

And yeah - the stuff on the temperature-inclusion going the other way is on my pile.

I'd also be interested to know my anti-schema thoughts. As in, I'm annoyed, but haven't taken the time to tidy the annoyance up and figure out how much of it is justified.