Why Are People Better Able to Take the Perspective of Others in Certain Temperature Conditions?

The research we report in our article indicates that people experiencing cooler temperatures are better able to take another person’s perspective than are people experiencing warmer temperatures.

Specifically, we base our theorizing on earlier research indicating a strong link between physical warmth and psychological warmth (friendliness, affiliation). This link is most probably learned early in childhood via experiences with caregivers: When our parents cradle us, provide support and hold us, we experience a connection between the comfort provided by this ‘psychologically warm’ behavior and the actual physical warmth of our caregiver’s touch. Consequentially, physical and psychological warmth become associated in our mind. In line with this notion, earlier research showed that people judge others to be friendlier, more affiliative, and, importantly, more similar to themselves when experiencing warmer compared with cooler temperatures.

Our hypotheses built especially on the finding that while we perceive others as more similar to ourselves when being in warmer conditions, we perceive them as less similar to ourselves (i.e. more different from ourselves) when we experience cooler temperature conditions. Perceiving someone as being dissimilar to us, not sharing much with us, can be beneficial for perspective taking because this helps in reducing inadequate over-imputing of our own perspective onto others.

Accordingly, given that cooler temperatures serve as a cue that others are different from us, and given that this perception of dissimilarity can help in reducing egocentrically biased perspective taking, we directly tested in our research whether experiencing cooler temperatures (compared with warmer temperatures) improved perspective taking in a subsequent task. Results of the two studies we conducted support our theorizing. They show that when people have been exposed to cooler (compared with warmer) temperature experiences, they are better able to let their judgments about another person’s perspective not be egocentrically biased.

Claudia Sassenrath is a postdoctoral researcher in the department of social psychology at the University of Ulm in Germany.

Category: Q&A


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