“I feel cold and lonely without you....” It sounds like a line out of a cheesy power ballad, but a new study suggests that social rejection literally makes us feel chilly.
Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey Leonardelli of the University of Toronto had 65 volunteers recall a situation in which they felt either socially welcomed or excluded. Then, under the pretense that the maintenance staff wanted the information, the researchers asked the volunteers to estimate the current room temperature. The volunteers gave answers ranging from 54 to an astonishing 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Even more interesting, those participants who were thinking of social rejection gave lower numbers than did those who remembered being included.
In a second experiment 52 volunteers played a virtual ball game, unaware that the computer was programmed to exclude some players from most of the throws. After they played, participants filled out a supposedly unrelated marketing survey that asked, for example, whether they were in the mood for hot coffee or an icy soda. Those who had been excluded in the ball game, on average, showed a preference for warm foods and drinks.
The results demonstrate that physical experience (such as temperature) and social constructs (such as ostracism) are linked, according to Zhong. That could have implications for such conditions as seasonal affective disorder, which scientists currently associate mainly with sunlight exposure. Winter temperatures might actually influence people’s perception of social interactions, Zhong says.