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I’ve wrote here before how tactile sensations can shape how we feel about objects. In “Fooled by a Carpet” I reported that a recent study showed that stores’ flooring can affect costumers’ perception of couches: hard flooring make the couches seem more comfortable, while soft flooring “turns” the same couch less appealing.

A recent paper covering six experiments led by Joshua Ackerman (MIT), Christopher Nocera (Harvard Uni.) and John Bargh (Yale Uni.), shows that it’s not only flooring that can have an effect on our perceptions on other objects: what we touch, hold or sit on can shape our thoughts and decisions. What’s more, not only our perceptions of objects are affected: judgments over a person suitability for a job and the way we approach a negotiation are also affected by our tactile sensations. The article abstract:

Touch is both the first sense to develop and a critical means of information acquisition and environmental manipulation. Physical touch experiences may create an ontological scaffold for the development of intrapersonal and interpersonal conceptual and metaphorical knowledge, as well as a springboard for the application of this knowledge. In six experiments, holding heavy or light clipboards, solving rough or smooth puzzles, and touching hard or soft objects nonconsciously influenced impressions and decisions formed about unrelated people and situations. Among other effects, heavy objects made job candidates appear more important, rough objects made social interactions appear more difficult, and hard objects increased rigidity in negotiations. Basic tactile sensations are thus shown to influence higher social cognitive processing in dimension-specific and metaphor-specific ways.

According to the authors, this effect happens because our physical experiences shape our understanding of abstract concepts. We are, from an early age, trained to attribute more importance to weighty objects and to perceive rough objects as stronger. Our physical contact with objects creates an anchor point in our perception that leads subsequent perceptive evaluation of other social objects. So if you’re trying to sell a car and are open to negotiation, you would do well to provide comfortable chairs to your prospective customers in order to decrease their rigidity in negotiations.

You can access the abstract of the study here.

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