Physical Sensations and How We See the World


Fall 2010 Issue

Physical to mental link

How much do you allow your senses to affect your thoughts?

In 2008, researchers found that holding a cup of warm coffee influences the holder to see others as emotionally warmer. This year, Joshua Ackerman, a psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and colleagues looked at the impact that texture can have on perception and emotional responses. In one study, the team had volunteers assemble a puzzle, giving half of them smooth pieces to assemble and the other half rough pieces. The volunteers then read a paragraph describing an interaction between two people. The experiment showed that the volunteers who assembled the rough puzzle viewed the interaction as more antagonistic and competitive than those who handled the smooth puzzle. Ackerman explains this phenomenon by stating, “roughness is associated with friction … so it makes sense that people who handle rough objects will also perceive the world to be more difficult and less cooperative.” This physical to mental link also appears to affect perception with passive touching, such as sitting in a hard versus a soft chair. Scientists believe that people often overlook the importance of touch and that by recognizing the physical signals we receive, we’ll be able to make better decisions. Previous studies, as well as Ackerman’s own unpublished work, suggests that the unconscious effects of touch on decision making virtually disappear once the individual is aware of them.

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