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Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel have discovered that the mere perception of colder temperatures can enable better “cognitive control”— in other words, your ability to make smart decisions.
“Metaphorical phrases like ‘coldly calculating’, ‘heated response’ and ‘cool-headed’ actually have some scientific validity, which we demonstrate in our study,” explained Dr. Idit Shalev in a press release. “Previous research focused on the actual effect of temperature on the psychological phenomenon known as ‘cognitive control’. But this is the first time we were able to measure the effects of perceived temperature.”
First, the researchers asked participants to fight their natural reflexes and curiosity and look away from a moving object. Next they showed them one of three images—a wintry landscape, a temperature-neutral street and a warm-looking sunny scene—and asked them to imagine themselves there.
Then they repeated the experiment with the moving object and found that those who viewed the wintry landscape were far better at performing the task asked of them. The perception of cold alone, without any physical triggers, was enough to boost self-control.
It isn’t just our ability to make better decisions that’s influenced by temperature—according to a study carried out in 2014, it might make us perceive people differently. The research found that, when judging criminals, people in warm environments were inclined to see the perpetrator as hot-headed and impulsive, while those in cooler ones viewed them as cold and calculating.
Another study showed that people were more likely to select a romantic movie to watch when the temperature was lower, suggesting we seek psychological warmth when we’re physically cold.
There’s even evidence that temperature affects our creative abilities. Researchers found that warm environments helped participants with creative drawing and dreaming up great gift ideas for others, while cold ones were optimal for recognizing metaphors and encouraging abstract thought.