The thermometer of social relations: mapping social proximity on temperature

Psychol Sci. 2009 Oct;20(10):1214-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02434.x. Epub 2009 Sep 2.


"Holding warm feelings toward someone" and "giving someone the cold shoulder" indicate different levels of social proximity. In this article, we show effects of temperature that go beyond these metaphors people live by. In three experiments, warmer conditions, compared with colder conditions, induced (a) greater social proximity, (b) use of more concrete language, and (c) a more relational focus. Different temperature conditions were created by either handing participants warm or cold beverages (Experiment 1) or placing them in comfortable warm or cold ambient conditions (Experiments 2 and 3). These studies corroborate recent findings in the field of grounded cognition revealing that concrete experiences ground abstract concepts with which they are coexperienced. Our studies show a systemic interdependence among language, perception, and social proximity: Environmentally induced conditions shape not only language use, but also the perception and construal of social relationships.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Language
  • Male
  • Psychological Distance*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Perception
  • Students / psychology
  • Temperature*
  • Young Adult