60-Second Science

Creepy People Leave You Cold

A socially awkward or inappropriate person can make others feel physically colder. Amy Kraft reports

Jack Nicholson, playing the crazed caretaker in The Shining, makes me reach for a blanket. Now a study finds that people we find, well, creepy can actually make us feel colder. The research will be published in the journal Psychological Science. [N. Pontus Leander, Tanya L. Chartrand and John A. Bargh, "You Give Me the Chills: Embodied Reactions to Inappropriate Amounts of Behavioral Mimicry"]

Researchers interviewed 40 college undergraduates. During each interaction, the experimenter was either chummy with the student or very stiff and professional. The investigator also alternated between mimicking students’ posture—a signal of rapport—and not doing anything at all.

Participants then completed a questionnaire designed to find out how hot or cold they felt. The results showed that the subjects actually felt colder when the investigator acted inappropriately or sent mixed signals.

The researchers conjecture that because the brain tries to interpret social cues and purely physical ones simultaneously, people unconsciously associate icy stares and chilly interactions with actual physical coldness.

So the next time you have to visit your doctor with the creepy receptionist, bring a sweater.

—Amy Kraft

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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