Cold hands warm heart – wrong !

Decadent hot chocolate at Hahndorf's in Surrey...

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Throughout my life friends and family have always joked of how cold hearted I must be since my hands are always warm/hot – and as the folklore goes: “cold hands warm heart” – I in theory must be the exact opposite. – cold hearted.

In the latest issue of the prestigious Science journal there is new research (Williams and Bargh 2008) suggesting that holding  a cold or or warm drink (temperature of your hands) can influence your perception of the person you are sitting down for coffee with.

The scientists ran two experiments. In experiment one the researchers observed that subjects judged a stranger as ‘warmer’ (kind and generous) if holding a hot drink in their hands compared to a cold drink. In the second study they got the subjects to hold hot or cold objects (hot or cold pads – the ones you take on camping trips (hot) – or use to ice sore muscles with) then rewarded them for participating in the study, but the scientist were in fact being a bit devious, as the participants could choose to get a gift for a friend, or one for themselves. Unbeknownst to the people in the study this ‘choice’ was part of the study. When holding a warm objects the participants were more likely to choose a gift for a friend, but when holding a cold object more likely to take the gift for themselves.

From a Washington post article about this study:

People are incredibly sensitive to cues in their physical environments, Williams said. “The metaphorical relationship between physical temperatures and interpersonal warm or cold feelings is not haphazard or accidental, but reveals something interesting about the way the mind works, in that a cue from the physical domain can have such a meaningful impact on psychological outcomes,” he said.

People should not underestimate the importance of surroundings in shaping thoughts, feelings and actions, Williams said. “Fundamental features of the world that we often take for granted, such has how warm or cold things are to the touch, matter for our psychological well-being,” he said.

So it appears that warming up your hands warms up your ‘heart’ toward your perception of others. Now this study is not suggesting that natural differences in the temperature of your hands play a role in your emotion – though maybe it does. Though this article did get me thinking. I find it humorous because I have wondered if the old folklore saying of ‘cold hands warm heart’ influenced my development since I was the opposite – warm hands – did this mean I must be cold hearted? Did this make it more likely for me to make cold hearted choices to become part of the folklore? The games our minds play.

Now it is potentially (though this paper did not directly address this question) warm hands (good blood flow) leads to a more warm hearted judgment of people. Maybe the scientist will test this hypothesis next and then fully address the old folklore.

Anybody want to go for a hot chocolate :)

2 comments for “Cold hands warm heart – wrong !

  1. CC
    October 26, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Interesting ^!^ Why is it like that…hm…
    Is coldness associated with a harsh environment, and thus people become more selfish and less likely to share, make friends?
    Does this suggest that people in the tropics are more friendly than those in colder areas?
    But it seems to me that wars broke out just as often everywhere in the world…hm…

  2. October 27, 2008 at 5:49 am


    NEWSWIRE–A new study shows that people who held a cup of hot coffee warmed to a perfect stranger. Holding a cup of iced coffee had the opposite effect.

    If your heart might retain
    What was warm on your dermis,
    Instead of champagne,
    I’ll be popping a thermos.
    Light verse, ripped from the headlines