Friday, June 2, 2017

Boiling rage and warm hearts: Or, how does temperature affect prosocial behaviour?

Temperature is an ever-present feature of the environment, and while we know that climate change is leading to all manner of physical changes to the planet (melting ice-caps, desertification, greater weather volatility), we are still unsure how temperature experience might affect people's behaviour. On the one hand, some studies have shown that experience of higher temperatures is linked
with more positive and prosocial behaviours (e.g., greater gift giving, altruism), while on the other hand, some have shown that higher temperatures are associated with more negative, antisocial behaviours, like violence and aggression.

As an example of more positive outcomes, a 2008 study by Lawrence Williams and John Bargh found that brief exposure to warm objects, like a cup of hot coffee or a warm therapeutic gel pack, lead people to view others in a more positive light, or be more likely to behave prosocially, such as choosing to give a gift to a friend.  In contrast to this pattern, a study by Richard Larrick and colleagues looking at player behaviour in over 11,000 baseball games found that as temperatures increased, so too did the likelihood of pitchers deliberately throwing the ball at the batter or making other retaliatory actions.  In other words, higher temperatures lead to more aggressive play. So, it has been unclear whether experiences of higher temperatures, be they brief exposures to objects or longer exposure to particular ambient temperatures, are consistently associated with more or less prosocial behaviour. 

In the current study1we investigated this question by looking at whether higher temperatures are associated with more or less prosocial responding, while also looking at whether brief interactions with hot/cold objects affected people's choices.  At different ambient temperatures, participants took part in a "product evaluation" study of hot or cold therapeutic gel packs.  At the end of the study, each participant could choose between taking a reward for themselves (the self-interested option) or giving the reward to someone else (the prosocial option). While the pack temperatures did not influence the choices people made, we found a weak relationship between the ambient temperature at the time of the study and whether the participant responded prosocially or not; as temperatures increased, participants were more likely to choose the prosocial option (see the graph).
Graph showing the relationship between temperature and prosocial choice. 

However, subsequent analysis suggested that this pattern existed for only one of the two groups of participants we tested (one in the UK, but not in the US), and so we feel this finding should be taken with a pinch of salt, rather than as clear evidence of a link between the environmental temperature and people's prosocial behaviour2.  However, if temperature change does have the capacity to influence human behaviour, it is certainly an issue that merits further research! 


1 This data was originally collected as part of a pre-registered replication of the Williams & Bargh (2008) study (Lynott et al., 2014). However, in the 2014 paper we only examined pack temperature, but not ambient temperature. 

2 The Bayes Factors for the combined data (both study sites together) indicated support for the effect of ambient temperature, whereas Bayes Factors for the two separate study sites were either inconclusive, or supported the null model (i.e., were not consistent with temperature affecting prosocial choice). 

Larrick, R. P., Timmerman, T. A., Carton, A. M., & Abrevaya, J. (2011). Temper, temperature, and temptation: Heat-related retaliation in baseball. Psychological Science, 22(4), 423-428.
Lynott, D., Corker, K. S., Connell, L., & O'Brien, K. S. (2017). The effect of haptic and ambient temperature experience on prosocial behavior. Archives of Scientific Psychology, 5(1), 10.
Lynott, D., Corker, K. S., Wortman, J., Connell, L., Donnellan, M. B., Lucas, R. E., & O’Brien, K. (2014). Replication of “Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth” by Williams and Bargh (2008). Social Psychology.
Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth. Science, 322(5901), 606-607.

No comments:

Post a Comment