Touch Biases Social Judgments

Information acquired through touch seems to exert broad influence over thought. Shoppers more readily understand and are confident about products they touch. Impressions formed by touching one thing can influence perceptions about another thing. For example, water seems to taste better from a firm bottle than from a flimsy bottle. The recent paper “Incidental Haptic Sensations Influence Social Judgments and Decisions” published June 25, 2010 in Science presents these examples to emphasize the under appreciated importance of touch.

The research team tested how the experience of weight, texture, and hardness through active touch influenced judgments and decisions about unrelated events, situations, and objects.

The researchers point out the weight is metaphorically associated with concepts of seriousness and importance. “That’s heavy!” In one study individuals were asked to evaluate a job candidate by reviewing resumes on either light or heavy clipboards. Evaluations using heavy clipboards rated the job candidates as better overall and as displaying more serious interest in the position. The individuals evaluating the candidates using heavy clipboards also evaluated their own accuracy on the task as more important than did those using the light clipboards.

In another study, individuals were asked whether particular public issues should receive more or less government funding. Men allocated more money to social issues when the clipboard was heavy than when it was light. Women chose to fund social issues at close to the maximum amount irrespective of clipboard weight.

Next, the research addressed texture’s effects on an individual’s perceptions of social interactions. They point out that metaphorically roughness and smoothness are associated with concepts of difficulty and harshness. “I’m having a rough day.” Participants who interacted with rough textures rated observed social interactions as more difficult and harsh than did participants who interacted with smooth surfaces.

Finally, the experience of hardness in active touch and its effect on thought was investigated. Hardness is metaphorically associated with the concepts of stability, rigidity, and strictness. Individuals who felt a hard block judged employees to be more rigid or strict than participants who felt a soft blanket.

The research then went a step further and tested passive touch’s influences on thought. Participants were primed by the seat of their pants. They either sat on a hard wooden chair or a soft cushioned chair. Participants sitting on hard chairs judged employees to be more stable and less emotional than did participants in soft chairs.