Thank you, science, for calling me cold.

For those of you who don’t know, I have a lifelong condition known as icicle-hands.  You can attribute it to bad circulation or a lack of insulating blubber around my fingers, but the facts of my condition remain.  1) If I’m sick or there’s a tropical heat wave in progress, my hands are either slightly warm or room temperature.  2) Otherwise, my hands range from icy to sub-Arctic.

It’s never really been a problem for me.  Most of the time, I’m used to the sensation of cold fingertips and don’t feel the need to warm my hands.  I’m easily able to comfort and soothe those with feverish brows with a simple touch of the hand.  And, of course, there’s the old adage of ‘cold hands, warm heart’, leaving me to reap the benefits of other’s perception of me as a warm and loving person.

However, recent studies may show that old adage to be completely false.  There is an indication thus far that physical warmth may promote both the perception of others as warm and also promote actions that would be considered ‘warm’ – kindness, thinking of others first, and genuine affection.  It is possible that since my hands are colder than most everything, ANY touch would promote ‘warm’ behavior in me.  However, other than this explanation, the recent research leave me in the cold (that was an unintentional pun, I swear).

The main conclusion of the research is much more broad – that physical and psychological concepts are deeply related, even in the way the brain processes both.  However, I would challenge researchers to examine such evidence in an area where language is not directly involved.  If we give both a psychological and a physical concept a shared name, obviously we think there is a connection between the two.  One area of investigation might be colors, which have different psychological meanings in different cultures.  In such cases, the strength of the affect of physical concept on psychological reactions might be better judged.

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2 Comments

  1. Dar said,

    October 24, 2008 at 11:13 am

    As I read the article about this research, I was struck by the implication that it’s not true about “cold hand, warm heart” as well.

    However, in thinking about the research, I don’t think we can draw that conclusion. The research involved having people hold warm or cold items, which apparently is correlated with these higher subsequent ratings (the dependent variable) of a “warm personality”. There is nothing said about whether the people themselves have warmer or colder hands to begin with, and whether their hand temperature remains changed by the time they respond on the dependent variable.

    I think, at best, that we can say that holding onto something warm appears to be correlated with these “warmer”, or friendlier, ratings.

    Those of us with cold hands must unite against unsupported statements! (I’m not sure if the statements are made by the researcher, or if they are made by the reporter….)

  2. sedgehammer said,

    October 24, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Dar – I totally agree. Down with the oppressors of those with cold hands!


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