August 2010

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Health Capsule

Touch Affects Impressions, Decisions

Something you’re touching can influence how you feel about unrelated events, situations and objects without you realizing it, according to new research.

From infancy, we use our hands to explore and interact with our environment. Our hands play an important role in helping us to learn, communicate and develop social bonds. Given how important touch is to our development, NIH-funded researchers designed a series of experiments to test whether the weight, texture and hardness of an object can affect our judgment about unrelated things.

Weight is often associated with seriousness and importance—for example, a "weighty matter" or "light reading." The researchers gave people either light or heavy clipboards and asked them to evaluate resumes from a job candidate. Those holding heavy clipboards rated the candidates better overall and more serious about the position.

Roughness and smoothness are associated with difficulty and harshness; think of "a rough day" or "smooth sailing." The researchers asked people to solve a puzzle with rough or smooth pieces. Then they had them read about a social interaction. The people who’d done the rough puzzle thought the interaction was more difficult and harsh than those who’d done the smooth puzzle.

Hardness and softness are associated with stability, rigidity and strictness—as in being "hard-hearted" or "soft on someone." In one experiment, people asked to feel a hard block judged others to be more rigid and strict than those who’d felt a soft blanket. Those sitting in hard chairs were less willing to compromise on the price of a car than those sitting in soft chairs.

"The old concepts of mind-body dualism are turning out not to be true at all," says Dr. John A. Bargh of Yale, one of the scientists. "Our minds are deeply and organically linked to our bodies."