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The Priming Effect of Temperature

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Roaming around on the internet the other day, I stumbled across an interesting article on about the effect of temperature on our psyches. Entitled, “5 Weird Ways Cold Weather Affects Your Psyche”, the author Laura Geggel discusses different studies showing that we react differently depending upon whether a room is hot or cold. While the March 11, 2015 article discusses 5 “weird ways”, three of them are pertinent to negotiations.

The first relates to how room temperatures influence our judgments about criminals (and thus, others in general.). The article cites a study, “Murder or Not? Cold Temperature Makes Criminals Appear to Be Cold-Blooded and Warm Temperature to be Hot-Headed” by Christine Gockel, Peter M. Kolb and Lioba Werth published on April 30, 2014 on PLOS. It concluded that people will judge others differently depending on the warmth or coldness of the room. To make this finding, the researchers enlisted college students to look at eight photos – four male and four females- in random order and were told that the photos were of persons who had committed a crime. The participants were then asked what kind of crime the person committed and also what type of sentence each should receive. (Id. at 3-4.)

Unbeknownst to the participants, the researchers were manipulating the temperature of the room either to 67.8 degrees, or 74.8 degrees or 79. 2 degrees while showing the photos and asking the questions. (Id. at 3.)

The researchers found that the change in temperature affected the answers. Those answering when the temperature was 67.8 degrees tended to attribute the pre-mediated crime of murder more often to those in the photos than those sitting in rooms with the higher temperatures. Similarly, those sitting in the 67.8 degree room also attributed a higher amount of time in jail (59.65 months) than those sitting in the warmer rooms (50.35 months). (Id. at 5-6.)

In sum, temperature affects one’s perception; the colder the temperature, the more negative we evaluate someone. Consequently, one holding an iced coffee will assess another to be less personable, i.e. colder while one holding a hot cup of coffee will assess another to be more personable, i.e. warmer. (Id. at 2.)

A second effect of temperature mentioned in the LiveScience article relates to cooperativeness. Another study published in Evolution Psychology (2013 Jan 25;11(1) :52-67) concluded that “…in trust- based decisions….30 pairs of British university students …were found to cooperate significantly more frequently when primed with hot objects than with cold objects….”. In conducting the study, the researchers- S. Story and L. Workman- used the game of the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma;

“Participants in the study who were asked to hold a chemical hand warmer during the experiment were twice as likely to cooperate with each other (meaning, they would not testify against the other person) compared with those who held an ice pack, the researchers found. (Id. at LiveScience)

Like the first study mentioned, these researchers concluded that “… physical warmth sensation positively affects interpersonal trust evaluation. (Id. at Evol. Psychology.)

The third effect mentioned in the LiveScience article involved creativity. Researchers found that people were more creative when given something hot such as a heating pad or warm cup of coffee or were sitting in a warm room. In such instances, they were “…better at creative drawing, categorizing objects and thinking of gift ideas for others.”(Id. at LiveScience.). In contrast, when sitting in a cold room, these individuals “… were better at recognizing metaphors, thinking of new pasta names and planning abstract gift ideas.” (Id.)

In short, whether we are warm or cold affects not only our attitudes towards others but our decisions about and concerning them, as well .

So… before engaging in your next negotiation, check the thermostat in the room!

… Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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