• Body, Mind, Spirit

  • Touch for your mind!

    June 22, 2015
  • Our sense of touch profoundly affects how we view the world and other people, influencing our thoughts and behavior, new research indicates.

    Investigators at Yale, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report that through our sense of touch, textures, shapes, and weights can influence judgments and decisions.

    Study researcher, John A. Bargh, PhD, of Yale, along with the other researchers say that:
         • People sitting on hard, cushion-less chairs are less likely to compromise in price negotiations than people sitting on softer chairs.
         • Interviewers holding a heavy clipboard are likely to think job applicants take their work more seriously than if the clipboard is less weighty.

    In addition to concluding that a hard chair creates a hard heart, the researchers also had participants arrange a rough or smooth jigsaw puzzle and then read a passage about an interaction between two people. Participants were more likely to characterize the interaction as adversarial if they had first handled rough, jigsaw puzzle pieces, as opposed to smooth ones.

    In another test of hardness, people were asked to handle either a soft blanket or a hard wooden block before being told an ambiguous story about a workplace interaction between an employee and a supervisor. Those bosses who touched the block judged the employee as more rigid and strict.

    Bargh said in a news release that physical concepts such as warmth, hardness, and roughness are among the first sensations of touch infants develop and remember.

    Such feelings, he says, are critical to how young children and adults eventually develop abstract concepts about people and relationships. These sensations, he says, help create a mental scaffold on which our understandings about the world develop as we age.

    They are reflected in such common expressions as "having a rough day" or "taking a hard line" or "weighing in with an opinion."

    He says physical experiences "not only shape the foundation of our thoughts and perceptions, but influence our behavior toward others, sometimes just because we are sitting in a hard instead of a soft chair."

    Try the experiment yourself! Sit in a hard chair or hold something hard while speaking to someone on the phone. Halfway through the conversation move to a soft chair and touch something soft, a kitty or blanket. Notice if your thoughts about the conversation shift.

    Maybe if you notice your attitude tends to be rigid, you could choose to sit on softer chairs with cushions all the time!


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