Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-n9wrp Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-20T13:19:25.282Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Social context modulates the effect of physical warmth on perceived interpersonal kindness: a study of embodied metaphors*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 January 2014

Cluster of Excellence ‘Languages of Emotion’, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany, and, Humanities Council, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
Humanities Council, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA, and, Cluster of Excellence ‘Languages of Emotion’, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Address for correspondence: Francesca Citron, Cluster of Excellence ‘Languages of Emotion’, Freie Universität Berlin, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, D-14195 Berlin. tel.: +49 (0) 17644437682; fax: +49 (0) 3083852887; e-mail:


Physical contact with hot vs. iced coffee has been shown to affect evaluation of the personal warmth or kindness of a hypothetical person (Williams & Bargh, 2008). In three studies, we investigated whether the manipulation of social context can modulate the activation of the metaphorical mapping, kindness as warmth. After priming participants with warm vs. cold temperature, we asked them to evaluate a hypothetical ad-hoc ally or adversary on the kindness dimension, as well as on other qualities used as a control. We expected more extreme evaluations of kindness in the adversary than in the ally condition, and no effects on other ratings. We thus replicated the classical effect of physical warmth on kindness ratings and generalized it to a German-speaking population. In addition, when the two German studies were combined, we found evidence suggesting a contextual modulation of the temperature effect: only out-group members, namely adversaries, were judged as more kind when participants had experienced physical warmth; the effect was not evident in the ally (i.e., in-group) condition. These studies suggest that context can modulate metaphorical activation; they therefore represent an initial attempt to add nuance to our understanding of when embodied metaphors affect our decisions.

Research Article
Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



We would like to thank Daniel Casasanto and two anonymous reviewers for extremely helpful comments, and Michael Kucharski and Luna Beck for their help in data collection and material preparation, respectively. FMMC also thanks Leyla De Amicis for her help during brainstorming and Evelyn Ferstl for her advice on data analysis. The authors are funded by an Einstein Visiting Fellowship from Berlin awarded to AEG, in conjunction with the Cluster of Excellence ‘Languages of Emotion’.



Casasanto, D., & Boroditsky, L. (2008). Time in the mind: using space to think about time. Cognition, 106, 579593.Google Scholar
Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social cognition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
IJzerman, H., & Semin, G. R. (2009). The thermometer of social relations: mapping social proximity on temperature. Psychological Science, 20, 12141220.Google Scholar
Kang, Y., Williams, L. E., Clark, M. S., Gray, J. R., & Bargh, J. A. (2011). Physical temperature effects on trust behavior: the role of insula. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 6, 507515.Google Scholar
Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
Linville, P. W., & Jones, E. E. (1980). Polarized appraisals of out-group members. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 689703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pashler, H., Spellman, B., Kang, S., & Holcombe, A. (n.d.). PsychFileDrawer: archive of replication attempts in experimental Psychology. Online <>..>Google Scholar
Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth. Science, 322, 606607.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Zhong, C.-B., & Leonardelli, G. J. (2008). Cold and lonely: Does social exclusion literally feel cold? Psychological Science, 19, 838842.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed