The chills are real: Iso­la­tion lit­er­ally does leave one cold

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JEN­NIFER HARPER

The cold shoul­der, frosty man­ners, chilly re­cep­tion, icy stare — there’s more to those me­taphors than just evoca­tive ad­jec­tives.

We re­ally do get cold when we’re lonely and mis­treated, at least ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by a pair of Uni­ver­sity of Toronto re­searchers.

“We found that the ex­pe­ri­ence of so­cial ex­clu­sion lit­er­ally feels cold,” said lead au­thor Chen-Bo Zhong, a psy­chol­o­gist at the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment on the cam­pus.

“This may be why peo­ple use tem­per­a­ture-re­lated me­taphors to de­scribe so­cial in­clu­sion and ex­clu­sion,” he said.

The re­search sug­gests a rem­edy per­haps more fa­mil­iar to Grandma than to a ther­a­pist.

“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,” said coau­thor Ge­of­frey Leonardelli, also a psy­chol­o­gist.

The re­searchers di­vided a group of 65 vol­un­teers into two groups, one called upon to re­call per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences when they were painfully re­jected, re­sult­ing in lone­li­ness or iso­la­tion.

The other group got to bask in the warm and fuzzy mem­o­ries where they re­called bring com­fort­ably ac- cepted by oth­ers.

The vol­un­teers were then asked to es­ti­mate the tem­per­a­ture in the room — on the pre­tense that the build­ing’s main­te­nance staff needed the in­for­ma­tion.

The es­ti­mate range was 54 de- grees Fahren­heit to 104 de­grees Fahren­heit.

“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,” Mr. Zhong said.

The fun wasn’t over just yet, though.

With an­other group of 52 volun- teers, the re­searchers also rigged a com­puter game to play fa­vorites and trig­ger “feel­ings of ex­clu­sion” among a se­lect few us­ing an on­line catch-and-toss ball game. No one was aware that the elec­tronic part­ner was de­signed to pitch the ball at some peo­ple many times — while leav­ing out the rest.

Af­ter­ward, the group rated the ap­peal of cer­tain foods and drinks, in­clud­ing hot cof­fee, crack­ers, an ice-cold Coke, an ap­ple, hot soup.

The find­ings were strik­ing. The “un­pop­u­lar” vol­un­teers — who had been os­tra­cized dur­ing the com­puter game — were much more likely than the oth­ers to want ei­ther hot soup or hot cof­fee.

“Their pref­er­ence for warm food and drinks pre­sum­ably re­sulted from phys­i­cally feel­ing cold as a re­sult of be­ing ex­cluded,” the re­searchers said in their anal­y­sis, which was pub­lished in the Septem­ber is­sue of Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence.

The find­ings, they con­cluded, give cre­dence to a new kind of warm-and-fuzzy ther­apy that uses warm or hot foods and cozy rooms.

It also adds a new di­men­sion to the treat­ment of sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der, the so-called “win­ter blues” de­pres­sion that af­fects as many as 12 mil­lion Amer­i­cans dur­ing the cold months.

Pre­vi­ously, psy­chol­o­gists blamed the state on shorter win­ter days, of­ten rec­om­mend­ing that pa­tients sit un­der bright lights to com­pen­sate.

Mr. Zhong and Mr. Leonardelli sug­gest that the cold it­self makes peo­ple de­pressed.

“Per­haps cold tem­per­a­tures in the win­ter serve as a cat­a­lyst to the psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of so­cial ex­clu­sion,” the re­searchers con­cluded.

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