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Cold and Lonely: Does Social Exclusion Literally Feel Cold?
Date:9/15/2008

TORONTO, Sept. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- When we hear somebody described as "frosty" or "cold," we automatically picture a person who is unfriendly and antisocial. There are numerous examples in our daily language of metaphors which make a connection between cold temperatures and emotions such as loneliness, despair and sadness. We are taught at a young age that metaphors are meant to be descriptive and are not supposed to be taken literally. However, recent studies suggest that these metaphors are more than just fancy literary devices and that there is a psychological basis for linking cold with feelings of social isolation.

Psychologists Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey Leonardelli from the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management wanted to test the idea that social isolation might generate a physical feeling of coldness. They divided a group of volunteers into two groups. One group recalled a personal experience in which they had been socially excluded -- rejection from a club, for example. This was meant to tap into their feelings of isolation and loneliness. The other group recalled an experience in which they had been accepted into a group.

Then, the researchers had all the volunteers estimate the temperature in the room, on the pretense that the building's maintenance staff wanted that information. The estimates ranged widely, from about 54 degrees F to a whopping 104 degrees F. Here's the interesting part: Those who were told to think about a socially isolating experience gave lower estimates of the temperature. In other words, the recalled memories of being ostracized actually made people experience the ambient temperature as colder.

"We found that the experience of social exclusion literally feels cold," Zhong said. "This may be why people use temperature-related metaphors to describe social inclusion and exclusion."

In another experiment, instead of relying on volunteers' memories, the researchers triggered feel
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SOURCE Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
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