When this song first became a hit in 1949 it was regarded as risqué. It has since been covered by everyone from Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald to Dolly Parton singing with Rod Stewart. Do songs like this make you warm hearted? Did “When Sally met Harry” give you a warm glow?
Last week I looked at the impact of temperature on the way that we as consumers make decisions. It seems that temperature can take away cognitive resources from our decision making. It can drive us to make “auto-pilot” decisions. Continuing my intellectual journal I wandered into a different “jungle”. Can temperature change what we buy, not just how we buy?
It turns out that the colder the weather, the more likely we are to watch a romantic film. The rental company in this study carried the usual collection of genres: romance; action; comedy; drama and thriller. The researchers could look at peoples’ selection of film type by week in the year. The temperature was varying across the year in this mid-Western town. The biggest predictor of genre chosen was habit. People who liked action movies rented them every week. But holding everything constant, they found that the colder the week, the more likely were people to rent a romantic movie. The effect was small but there was no impact of temperature on any other genre.
Their explanation goes beyond last week’s ideas. The researchers suggest that if we feel physically cold we will seek psychological warmth from a movie. Our language suggests we do associate emotional feelings with temperature. Someone can be warm hearted. A film or play can be “heart-warming”. According to them watching “When Sally Met Harry” really does warm us.
In other Newsletters I have talked out how we sometimes mix the inputs from our senses into our decisions. Many times these inputs are not relevant to the decision. The smell of chocolate can induce us to spend more time in a book store. It can also increase the sales of romantic novels. In the absence of other information, a hard floor can impact our perception of a product on display. The colour of the plate can influence the flavour of the food.
Some researchers go further. They say that these senses can affect our feelings and these in turn can change our motivation. I am not convinced but it makes an interesting argument. They argue that physical coldness can induce that motivation for psychological warmth.
Holding a Hot Cup of Coffee.
In one study they asked people to select a movie to watch from the typical genres. Some were given a hot tea to hold while doing it. Others were given iced tea. The “cover” for the study was that they would be evaluating the drinks. Those holding a cold drink had a statistically significant preference for romantic movies. The temperature of the drink had no impact on the preference for any of the other genre. It seems we had better be careful about holding our drinks when making decisions.
They replicated the study be changing the temperature of the laboratory. Some chose a genre at 15C other at 20C. In this case they were asked how much they would be prepared to pay for the different genre. The results were the same. Cold affected the willingness to pay for romance movies. It had no effect on the other genre.
To prove the association they repeated the studies but added a new variable. They developed a scale to measure whether an individual felt romantic movies were “heart -warming”. In a cold room those that agreed, were significantly more likely to choose a romantic movie. Those that saw no psychological warmth in a romantic movie were as likely to choose it in a warm or cold room.
A Subconscious Effect
Many of the effects of our senses operate at a sub-conscious level. Smells, touches, colours can influence evaluations of experiences or even foods. If we become aware that we are being influenced the effect goes away. The researchers tested this with temperature. They changed the sequence of their questionnaire. Like most experimenters they had a “manipulation check”. If you change the temperature, you want to check whether the respondents noticed. In these studies they asked such a question after asking for the choice of film. They now reversed the order for half of their people. It turns out that being asked about the temperature first “tips off” the brain. It is no longer fooled and the impact on the perceived value of genre goes away. This reinforces their idea since it is consistent with many other studies on senses.
Our Linked Physical and Emotional Worlds
When we are happy we are “up”. When we are sad we are “down”. When we say that we are nervous we associate it with have a dry mouth and a fast heart rate. Our feelings and concrete experiences are linked. Researchers gave a pain suppressant with no known psychological effects to respondents. After three weeks taking the pills, they found that this group had a reduced feeling of social pain when subject to rejection. It turns out that people who are chronically lonely take more hot baths and showers. Are they seeking physical warmth to compensate for their feelings of psychological coldness?
Are Old People Condemned to watch Romantic Movies?
Older people feel the cold more. There is also a marginal drop in core body temperature with age. Will they thus seek psychological warmth more? Or will they take more hot showers and wear bed socks? I shall ponder that whilst watching Pride and Prejudice again!