Does a handful of warmth help you be nicer and have a better day? Yes — it, and many other tactile sensations, cause psychological and biological reactions. Touch and emotion are always entangled.
A study conducted by the University of Colorado and Yale had an employee of the experimenters take study participants up an elevator to a designated testing room. On the way up the elevator, the employee would hand one participant a cup with warm coffee, and another participant a cup with iced coffee.
On arriving at the testing room, participants were asked to rate a fictional person on 10 different traits: honesty vs. dishonesty, humane vs. ruthless, etc. “Those who’d held the warm cup tended to rate the target fictional person as ‘warmer’ — more humane, trustworthy and friendly — than those who held the iced coffee. In other words, physical warmth produced ‘interpersonal warmth’ in these participants.” This is according to David J. Linden, a John Hopkins neuroscientist, in his book “Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind.
The need for tactile to emotional bonding starts early. Infants in institutions or orphanages who don’t get held can suffer from developmental delay, which is “when your child does not reach their developmental milestones at the expected times,” as stated by the article The article makes clear that this is “an ongoing major or minor delay in the process of development. If your child is temporarily lagging behind, that is not called developmental delay.” The result of this delay will show later on, physically and emotionally.
Touch and emotion are so closely related that patients who’ve suffered damage to the posterior insula or the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex can tell you it is painful when pricked by a needle, but don’t associate it with fear anymore, and may often smile amiably while it is happening. It’s because those damaged brain regions are involved in processing the emotional aspects of pain.
The development of touch isn’t influenced only by physical stimuli, but also by someone’s cultural background. Suzi Godson of the Huffington Post reported that in 1967 the humanist psychologist Dr. Sidney Jourard conducted an informal study assessing how often people touched each other during a conversational hour. He traveled to several countries, and would sit in a well-known coffee house watching the patrons. His final tally: “In Puerto Rico he counted 180 touches an hour between two people. In Mexico City it was 185. In Paris it was 115. In Florida it was two, and in London it was a big fat zero.” The cultural differences inherent in touching were very telling.
The conclusion is, it’s important to make that cup of hot chocolate before heading out the door. It can make a big difference in overall feelings, work habits and interpersonal relations with others. The same cup can be a great ending to a trying day. As Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory” says, “If you’re distressed you need a hot beverage.”