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You turn me cold: Evidence for temperature contagion

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Singer,  Tania
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, United Kingdom;
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Cooper, E. A., Garlick, J., Featherstone, E., Voon, V., Singer, T., Critchley, H. D., et al. (2014). You turn me cold: Evidence for temperature contagion. PLoS One, 9(12): e116126. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116126.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0024-5257-3
Abstract
Introduction: During social interactions, our own physiological responses influence those of others. Synchronization of physiological (and behavioural) responses can facilitate emotional understanding and group coherence through inter-subjectivity. Here we investigate if observing cues indicating a change in another's body temperature results in a corresponding temperature change in the observer. Methods: Thirty-six healthy participants (age; 22.9±3.1 yrs) each observed, then rated, eight purpose-made videos (3 min duration) that depicted actors with either their right or left hand in visibly warm (warm videos) or cold water (cold videos). Four control videos with the actors' hand in front of the water were also shown. Temperature of participant observers' right and left hands was concurrently measured using a thermistor within a Wheatstone bridge with a theoretical temperature sensitivity of <0.0001°C. Temperature data were analysed in a repeated measures ANOVA (temperature × actor's hand × observer's hand). Results: Participants rated the videos showing hands immersed in cold water as being significantly cooler than hands immersed in warm water, F(1,34) = 256.67, p<0.001. Participants' own hands also showed a significant temperature-dependent effect: hands were significantly colder when observing cold vs. warm videos F(1,34) = 13.83, p = 0.001 with post-hoc t-test demonstrating a significant reduction in participants' own left (t(35) = −3.54, p = 0.001) and right (t(35) = −2.33, p = 0.026) hand temperature during observation of cold videos but no change to warm videos (p>0.1). There was however no evidence of left-right mirroring of these temperature effects p>0.1). Sensitivity to temperature contagion was also predicted by inter-individual differences in self-report empathy. Conclusions: We illustrate physiological contagion of temperature in healthy individuals, suggesting that empathetic understanding for primary low-level physiological challenges (as well as more complex emotions) are grounded in somatic simulation.