We have long known that temperature impacts our behavior and perceptions in a variety of ways. For example, experiencing warmth makes us think that others have warmer personalities; Williams and Bargh (2008) showed that when they asked participants in an experiment to hold a hot or a cold cup – the warmer one made them think that a fictional person was warmer personality.

Most interestingly, this relationship between physical and psychological temperature is a dual one – it’s not just that physical warmth promotes psychological one; psychological warmth impacts how warm we feel. Studies show for example that social exclusion make us perceive the ambient temperature as lower. Similarly, due to our desire to regulate the experience of temperature, our preference for romantic movies is higher when we experience coldness, even in as simple a form as in drinking iced tea.


A recent study by Dipankar Rai and Chun-Ming Yang shows that this dual relationship between physical and psychological warmth also impacts our charitable behavior. Curiously, we don’t need to actually experience warmth or coldness – simple cues related to temperature, such as seeing photos of people feeling warm or cold, are enough to affect us. Rai and Yang asked participants in a lab study to first see photos of people feeling warm or cold, and then recollect from their own memories warm or cold situations they’ve experienced in the last year. After that they asked people to state their intention to donate to charities.

What they found out is that people in the cold condition were significantly more likely to donate than the those in the warm one; this effect holds for donations to organizations as well as to people, and is robust enough to manifest even when taking into account participants’ charity perception, empathy, mood, an cause involvement. Experiment participants in the cold condition also intended to donate higher amounts than those in the warm one – the average donation to an individual in the cold condition was found to be about 41 USD vs 24 USD in the warm one; for donations to an organization the respective figures are 28 USD and 15 USD.

Why does this effect appear in the first place? Because experiencing lower temperatures (coldness) make us feel excluded and social exclusion is clearly not a nice state to be in, we try to get rid of this feeling, i.e. we self-regulate. Of course, if we can change the physical temperature we would probably prefer that. If, as in the case of this experiment, this is not an option, we substitute physical and social warmth and gun for more social connection. Hence, when we feel cold and have the option to alleviate this by getting connected to others via donations for example, we welcome the opportunity.


This is just one example the subtle ways in which our environment/ambiance impacts our thoughts, feeling and behavior. Check out the other sections and articles on https://subtleways.blog/ to find out more.

My best wishes for a great day ahead!

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