Friday, June 25, 2010

Sense of Touch Affects Decision-Making? Maybe Not a Crazy Idea

When I read this article's headline and first paragraph, I was ready to dismiss the whole thing as silly science: the sort of thing that folks with letters after their name do sometimes, to increase their own status or push some political preference. Or maybe because they don't know any better.

Anyway: here's that headline, a link, a citation, and a few excerpts from that article

"Sense of Touch Shapes Snap Judgments"
Wired Science (June 25, 2010)

"Sitting in a hard chair can literally turn someone into a hardass. Holding a heavy clipboard leads to weighty decisions. Rubbing rough surfaces makes us prickly. So found researchers studying the interaction between physical touch and social cognition.

"The experiments included would-be car buyers who, when seated in a cushy chair, were less likely to drive a stiff bargain. The findings don't just suggest tricks for salesman, but may illuminate how our brains develop.

" 'The way people understand the world is through physical experiences. The first sense they develop is touch,' said study co-author Josh Ackerman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist. As they grow up, those physical experiences shape how people conceptualize abstract, social experience, he said. 'Later on, you can do what we did - trigger different physical experiences, and produce changes in people's thoughts.'..."

"...Other research shows that the brain doesn't always have different structures for different functions, but often uses the same systems in a variety of ways. And given the importance of touch, it's easy for developing brains to use tactile associations - heaviness requires effort, roughness leads to friction, hard objects are inflexible - in understanding social situations.

" 'Those connections that people have, between physical experience and mental understanding, don't ever disappear,' said Ackerman...."

"...For those fearing exploitation by marketers, Ackerman noted that tactile suggestion's effects diminish when people pay attention. 'It's when you're distracted, thinking in a shallow fashion, that you get hit by these cues,' he said...."
The sort of research described in the article is in a relatively new field called embodied cognition.

The parts I left out describe - briefly - how the experiments were done. It seems to me that if the researchers were careful about procedures and crunching statistics - they're probably on to something here.

I was particularly impressed that they had a working hypothesis to explain the apparent link between our sense of touch, and how we're inclined to interpret social data.

Apart from the practical business angles - like 'no hard chairs for the clients' - there's some really interesting science going on here.


F. Orex said...

The topic related to psychology is of really deep nature. This will make you understand a lot many new important things which will give you and extra advantage.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

F. Orex,

Quite possibly: although a great deal of what I do is online, where a sense of touch doesn't apply so much.

(Everybody else: F. Orex's URL is for an outfit that handles flats to rent in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast.)

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