Tactile tactics

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Research by Nocera, Ackerman & Bargh published in the June edition of Science journal indicates that the decisions we make may be influenced unconsciously by the feel of objects; our ‘haptic’ or touch impressions. Through a series of six experiments, the researchers found a connection between tactile perceptions and thinking.

Perceptions of weight, texture and hardness seem to sway us. Participants were asked to evaluate some CVs. The CVs were presented either on lightweight or heavy clipboards. Candidates were judged to be more serious about the job in question, and better qualified to fill the vacancy if their CVs were given out on a heavy clipboard. Interviewees beware.

Puzzles were perceived to be more difficult if the pieces handled were rough rather than smooth. And, after hearing an ambiguous story about an interaction between an employee and a boss, those who had touched a wooden block rather than a soft blanket beforehand judged the employee to be more rigid and strict. 

In a different experiment, negotiations over the price of a car were affected by the kind of chair the buyer sat in. Given the scenario that their initial offer had been rejected by the seller, those buyers who sat in soft, cushioned chairs made 39% higher second offers than those who sat in rigid, less comfortable chairs. The thinking seems to follow the physical perceptions – rigidity and unyielding thoughts followed that type of impression on the body.

The researchers suggest that we learn from sensorimotor experiences throughout childhood, and everyday perceptions may become associated with everyday thinking. The brain is always eager to conserve processing power, so we may take some shortcuts to these automatic associations later in life too (usually expressed in the form of metaphors, as Lakoff and Johnson proposed back in 1980 in their book Metaphors we Live By. A more accessible version of  these ideas can be found in Metaphors in Mind by Lawley and Tompkins).

Recognising the importance of such connections between tactile impressions and decision-making could have important applications in the business world, or wherever one party seeks to influence another. Here, take a (soft) seat …

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/328/5986/1712

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