Remember the studies of mother-infant bonding in nonhuman primates where baby macaques were given a choice in between food-providing wire-mothers and warmth-providing cloth mothers? The outcome was the amusing and sweetly irrational preference for warmth (100W light bulb) over milk (nutrition). Silly apes?
Not quite. Not at least in comparison as to how humans behave. In a mind-blowing paper published in Science, Williams and Bargh show that small things can make a big difference. The subjects having held briefly a warm cup of coffee had significantly more positive (‘warm’) thoughts about people they were evaluating soon after the ‘treatment’ as compared to those having held briefly a cup of ice-coffee.
Hence, experiences of physical temperature per se can affect one’s impressions of and social behavior toward other people. By combining their observations with other data, they go as far as to suggest that ‘early childhood experiences of physical warmth from caregivers are critical for normal development of interpersonal warmth detection and behavior as adults’.
One cannot but admire the mighty powers of warm beverages. Next time you are evaluated, make sure that your reviewers have been served with a pot of steaming hot coffee.
Williams LE & JA Bargh 2008. Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth. Science 322:60-607.