Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Tactile sensations influence social judgments and decisions

Date:
June 25, 2010
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Psychologists report that interpersonal interactions can be shaped, profoundly yet unconsciously, by the physical attributes of incidental objects: Resumes reviewed on a heavy clipboard are judged to be more substantive, while a negotiator seated in a soft chair is less likely to drive a hard bargain. The work suggests physical touch -- the first of our senses to develop -- may continue throughout life as a scaffold upon which we build our social judgments and decisions.

Psychologists report in the journal Science that interpersonal interactions can be shaped, profoundly yet unconsciously, by the physical attributes of incidental objects: Resumes reviewed on a heavy clipboard are judged to be more substantive, while a negotiator seated in a soft chair is less likely to drive a hard bargain.

Related Articles


The research was conducted by psychologists at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Yale University. The authors say the work suggests physical touch -- the first of our senses to develop -- may continue throughout life as a scaffold upon which we build our social judgments and decisions.

"Touch remains perhaps the most underappreciated sense in behavioral research," says co-author Christopher C. Nocera, a graduate student in Harvard's Department of Psychology. "Our work suggests that greetings involving touch, such as handshakes and cheek kisses, may in fact have critical influences on our social interactions, in an unconscious fashion."

Nocera conducted the research with Joshua M. Ackerman, assistant professor of marketing at MIT's Sloan School of Management, and John A. Bargh, professor of psychology at Yale.

"First impressions are liable to be influenced by the tactile environment, and control over this environment may be especially important for negotiators, pollsters, job seekers, and others interested in interpersonal communication," the authors write in Science. "The use of 'tactile tactics' may represent a new frontier in social influence and communication."

The researchers conducted a series of experiments probing how objects' weight, texture, and hardness can unconsciously influence judgments about unrelated events and situations:

  • To test the effects of weight, metaphorically associated with seriousness and importance, subjects used either light or heavy clipboards while evaluating resumes. They judged candidates whose resumes were seen on a heavy clipboard as better qualified and more serious about the position, and rated their own accuracy at the task as more important.
  • An experiment testing texture's effects had participants arrange rough or smooth puzzle pieces before hearing a story about a social interaction. Those who worked with the rough puzzle were likelier to describe the interaction in the story as uncoordinated and harsh.
  • In a test of hardness, subjects handled either a soft blanket or a hard wooden block before being told an ambiguous story about a workplace interaction between a supervisor and an employee. Those who touched the block judged the employee as more rigid and strict.
  • A second hardness experiment showed that even passive touch can shape interactions, as subjects seated in hard or soft chairs engaged in mock haggling over the price of a new car. Subjects in hard chairs were less flexible, showing less movement between successive offers. They also judged their adversary in the negotiations as more stable and less emotional.

Nocera and his colleagues say these experiments suggest that information acquired through touch exerts broad, if generally imperceptible, influence over cognition. They propose that encounters with objects can elicit a "haptic mindset," triggering application of associated concepts even to unrelated people and situations.

"People often assume that exploration of new things occurs primarily through the eyes," Nocera says. "While the informative power of vision is irrefutable, this is not the whole story. For example, the typical reaction to an unknown object is usually as follows: With an outstretched arm and an open hand, we ask, 'Can I see that?' This response suggests the investigation is not limited to vision, but rather the integrative sum of seeing, feeling, touching, and manipulating the unfamiliar object."

Nocera says that because touch appears to be the first sense we use to experience the world -- for example, by equating the warm and gentle touch of our mother with comfort and safety -- it may provide part of the basis by which metaphorical abstraction allows for the development of a more complex understanding of comfort and safety. This physical-to-mental abstraction is reflected in metaphors and shared linguistic descriptors, such as the multiple meanings of words like "hard," "rough," and "heavy."

Nocera, Ackerman, and Bargh's work was supported by the Sloan School of Management at MIT and by the National Institute of Mental Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Joshua M. Ackerman, Christopher C. Nocera, and John A. Bargh. Incidental Haptic Sensations Influence Social Judgments and Decisions. Science, 2010; 328 (5986): 1712-1715 DOI: 10.1126/science.1189993

Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Tactile sensations influence social judgments and decisions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100624140908.htm>.
Harvard University. (2010, June 25). Tactile sensations influence social judgments and decisions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100624140908.htm
Harvard University. "Tactile sensations influence social judgments and decisions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100624140908.htm (accessed November 23, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Don't Have To Be Alcohol Dependent To Need Treatment

You Don't Have To Be Alcohol Dependent To Need Treatment

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 9 out of 10 excessive drinkers in the country are not alcohol dependent. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the more complex your job is, the sharper your cognitive skills will likely be as you age. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins