Social Exclusion May Literally Leave People Frozen Out

Findings hint frosty reception from others could generate physical feelings of coldness

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FRIDAY, Sept. 19, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- People who are socially isolated may literally feel left out in the cold, suggest Canadian researchers who examined whether social exclusion may generate physical feelings of coldness.

The University of Toronto psychologists divided volunteers into two groups. One group recalled a personal experience in which they'd been socially excluded, while the other group recalled an experience in which they'd been accepted into a group.

Participants in both groups were asked to estimate the temperature in the room, on the pretense that maintenance staff wanted that information. Their estimates ranged from 54 degrees F to 104 degrees F. Those told to think about a socially isolating experience gave lower estimates of the room temperature.

"We found that the experience of social exclusion literally feels cold. This may be why people use temperature-related metaphors to describe social inclusion and exclusion," study co-author Chen-Bo Zhong said in an Association for Psychological Science news release.

In another test, the volunteers played a computer-simulated ball tossing game designed to toss the ball to certain players many times, while leaving others out of the game.

After playing the game, the participants were asked to rate the desirability of certain foods and beverages -- hot soup, hot coffee, crackers, an apple, and a cold soft drink. The "unpopular" participants who'd been left out of the computer ball game were much more likely to want either hot soup or hot coffee -- a desire presumably caused by a physical feeling of coldness.

"It's striking that people preferred hot coffee and soup more when socially excluded. Our research suggests that warm chicken soup may be a literal coping mechanism for social isolation," study co-author Geoffrey Leonardelli said in the news release.

The findings were published in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians explains how emotions can affect your health.

SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science, news release, Sept. 15, 2008

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