A lot can happen over a cup of hot coffee, say researchers, who have found that people judged others to be more generous and caring if they had
just held a warm drink in their hand.
The study led by Yale University psychologists suggests that simply handling a hot cup of coffee can change one's attitude toward a stranger. "The basic scientific implication is about exploring the link between the physical world and the psychological world," said CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Lawrence E. Williams.
"It's at the same time subtle and very powerful, a repeated association of physical warmth that is learned over a lifetime," he added. Psychologists have long noted the importance of warm physical contact with caregivers in developing healthy relationships as adults.
Williams and John A. Bargh, a professor of psychology at Yale and co-author, decided to test the impact of warmth on the perceptions of adults.
During the study, the researchers casually asked that the undergraduate test subjects briefly hold either a warm cup of coffee or iced coffee as they wrote down information. The subjects were then given a packet of information about an individual, and asked to assess his or her personality traits. The participants assessed the person as significantly "warmer" if they had previously held the warm cup of coffee rather than the iced cup of coffee.
In a second study, they showed people are more likely to give something to others if they had just held something warm, and more likely take something for themselves if they held something cold.
The participants held heated or frozen therapeutic packs as part of a product evaluation study, and were then were told they could receive a gift certificate for a friend or a gift for themselves. Those who held the hot pack were more likely to ask for the gift certificate, while those who held the frozen pack tended to keep the gift.
"It appears that the effect of physical temperature is not just on how we see others, it affects our own behaviour as well," said Bargh.
"Physical warmth can make us see others as warmer people, but also cause us to be warmer – more generous and trusting – as well," he added.