Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Benjamin Friedman (The Moral Consequnces of Economic Growth) tells us that prosperous people are nice to each other. Now, Lawrence E. Williamson and John A. Bargh, writing in the October 2008 Science explain that "Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth."

"Warmth" is the most powerful personality trait in social judgment, and attachment theorists have stressed the importance of warm physical contact with caregivers during infancy for healthy relationships in adulthood. Intriguingly, recent research in humans points to the involvement of the insula in the processing of both physical temperature and interpersonal warmth (trust) information. Accordingly, we hypothesized that experiences of physical warmth (or coldness) would increase feelings of interpersonal warmth (or coldness), without the person's awareness of this influence. In study 1, participants who briefly held a cup of hot (versus iced) coffee judged a target person as having a "warmer" personality (generous, caring); in study 2, participants holding a hot (versus cold) therapeutic pad were more likely to choose a gift for a friend instead of for themselves.

Climate change is not exactly news. When climate stops changing, then something very strange is afoot. And there are even people who have looked at the benefits of warming. But the fact that it may make us more civil is good news. This benefit-cost stuff keeps getting tougher.