If you are currently in the Northeast United States, you are probably still dealing with the aftereffects of Jonas, our most recent (and for many of us) first snowstorm of the winter. While some of us braved the weather to walk our dogs, dig out our cars, or make an emergency trip to the store to pick up the milk we forgot to buy in the days leading up to the storm, the rest of us probably stayed warm indoors and watched TV. After texting my friends to discuss their snowpocalypse plans, I found out that many, like me, were watching movies. Specifically romantic movies. Was this all just a pre-Valentine’s Day coincidence? The answer to this question may be found by considering research on embodied cognition.
The term embodied cognition refers to the general theoretical idea that our perceptions affect how we think,1 that social experiences are not independent of physical and somatic perception,2 but rather are “…grounded in physical context and perceptual processes.”3
So what does that jargon mean? Consider the research finding, for example, that touching warm objects influences peoples’ assessments of others; as participants who held a cup of hot coffee rated a random person as warmer and friendlier compared to those who held a cup of cold coffee.2 The converse is also true, in that emotional experiences can influence physical sensations. In two experiments, researchers found that people literally felt cold or preferred warm food when they experienced being socially excluded, demonstrating that feelings of isolation led people to seek warmth.2
Now back to the snowpocalypse run on romantic movies. In a recent series of studies, researchers set out to determine if physical coldness activates the motivation for psychological warmth, which may manifest itself in the preference for romantic movies.3 In the first study, 53 participants were randomly assigned to either drink hot or cold tea and were presented with information on three movies from each of the following four genres: romance, action, comedy, and thrillers. Next, they rated how good they thought each movie would be. Participants in the cold drink condition showed a greater preference for romance movies than those in the hot drink condition. However, the ratings for the other genres were not significantly different, demonstrating that the cold only influenced perception of romance movies, not movies in general. Overall, the research suggests that physical coldness led to increased liking for romance movies.3
In the second study, the extent to which people associate romantic movies with psychological warmth was measured. One hundred forty participants were told to indicate the extent to which movies make them feel temperatures? on a 7-point scale (1 = gives me a cold feeling to 7 = gives me a warm feeling). They were also exposed to the same conditions used in Study 1 and asked to rate the movies, as they had in the previous experiment. The more participants associated romance movies with psychological warmth, the more they liked these movies. Taken together, these studies show that a physical experience may influence cognitive judgement.3
As many of us prepare to endure for what may be the coldest and worst part of the winter, take a tip from the research and queue up your Netflix for plenty of romance rentals. Not only will they be entertaining, but they may bring you some much needed warmth.
1Williems, R.M., & Francken, J.C. (2012). Embodied cognition: Taking the next step. Frontiers In Psychology, 3, 1-3.
2Zhong, C., & Leonardelli, G. J. (2008). Cold and lonely: Does social exclusion literally feel cold? Psychological Science, 19, 838-842.
3Hong, J., & Sun, Y. (2012). Warm it up with love: The effect of physical coldness on liking of romance movies. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), 293-306.
Dr. Marisa Cohen
Marisa, along with a colleague at St. Francis College, founded the Self-Awareness and Bonding Lab (SABL) in Fall 2014. Research has focused on the development of relationships throughout the life span, including factors influencing mate choice and peoples’ perceptions of what makes relationships survive and thrive. Her specific focus is on how various relationship configurations impact the satisfaction derived from them.