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Cold Temperatures, Even in a Photo, Give People Increased Cognitive Control, According to Researchers at BGU

Apr. 18, 2017

BGU researchers have demonstrated that the perception of cold temperatures elicits greater cognitive control, even from a photo. 

"Metaphorical phrases like "coldly calculating," "heated response," and "cool-headed" actually have some scientific validity which we demonstrate in our study," says lead researcher Dr. Idit Shalev of BGU’s Department of Education. "Previous research has focused on the actual effect of temperature on the psychological phenomenon known as 'cognitive control,' but this is the first time we were able to measure the effects of perceived temperature." The study, "Keep it Cool: Temperature Priming Effect on Cognitive Control Research" was published in Psychological Research. 

Cognitive control is the process by which goals or plans influence behavior and involves the ability to deliberately inhibit responses to maximize the long-term best interests of the individual. 

Along with Dr. Shalev the other researchers were Prof.Nachshon Meiran of BGU’s Department of Psychology and their student Eliran Halali, now a faculty member at Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Psychology.

The researchers conducted two experiments in the study.  In the first, 87 students performed an "anti-saccade task" which requires looking in the opposite direction of a moving object and measures cognitive control. In the second experiment, 28 female students were asked to perform the same anti-saccade task, but this time were asked to physically imagine themselves in a picture of winter scenery, a temperature neutral concrete street or a sunny landscape depicted as the background image in the test.  

 Above: Example of a screen in the anti-saccade test

The results indicated that those viewing the cold landscape did better and that even without a physical trigger, cognitive control can be activated through conceptual processes alone," says Shalev.

The researchers also examine the possibility that there is a common explanation for the relation of temperature and cognitive control with social proximity. "While warmth signaling promotes a relaxed attitude, cool signals alertness and possible need for greater cognitive control," the study concludes.