A Hot Bath Can Make You Less Lonely

Fear not, young bachelors and bachelorettes who lack the disposable income necessary to properly heat your apartments. A new study by John Barg and Idit Shalev shows that bringing somebody back to your freezing apartment may increase their loneliness and send them in search of the “social warmth” a companion can provide.

Recent research on embodied cognition has shown that feelings of social warmth or coldness can be induced by experiences of physical warmth or coldness, and vice versa. Here we show that people tend to self-regulate their feelings of social warmth through applications of physical warmth, apparently without explicit awareness of doing so. In Study 1, higher scores on a measure of chronic loneliness (social coldness) were associated with an increased tendency to take warm baths or showers. In Study 2, a physical coldness manipulation significantly increased feelings of loneliness. In Study 3, needs for social affiliation and for emotion regulation, triggered by recall of a past rejection experience, were subsequently eliminated by an interpolated physical warmth experience.

Creepy innuendo aside, there’s no doubt that the evolutionary story behind our ability to substitute physical and social warmth is fascinating, whatever it may be. Perhaps for eons there was no such thing as “social warmth,” and then a mutation caused some human ancestor to develop the ability to feel what seemed like physical warmth through relationships. This trait proved to be beneficial for survival through its encouragement of social activity, and now it’s been passed on to all of us. Whatever its origin is, the ability to substitute physical and social warmth is another neat example of how our brains can accomplish the same goal through two very different means.
Bargh, J., & Shalev, I. (2012). The substitutability of physical and social warmth in daily life. Emotion, 12 (1), 154-162 DOI: 10.1037/a0023527

2 Responses to A Hot Bath Can Make You Less Lonely

  1. The connection might be more obvious. The social took place around a fire and nowadays it also takes place in well-warmth places. Moreover, the more social others are, the closer to our physical space they are: we feel the warmth of our sexual partners.

  2. Pingback: Friday Sex Links! « Sex with Timaree

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