Over the past several years, scientists have been studying the very surprising ways our thoughts and decisions are unconsciously influenced by our physical senses. I’ve previously written about a couple of these findings as they relate to emotional wounds such as guilt. Now an exciting new book takes readers on a comprehensive tour of these cutting edge studies for the first time—and you will never think of a cup of coffee, the color red, or a comfy chair quite the same way again. Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence, by professor Thalma Lobel, (Atria Books, 2014) is an eye-opening and often shocking exploration of how your 5 senses (colors, tactile sensations, scents, tastes, and visual perspectives) significantly influence us, without our being aware of it. Lobel brings us one delicious study after another and describes how these unexpected findings have implications for pretty much everything we do in life.
5 Examples of Physical Intelligence at Work in Your Daily Life
1. You’re on a first date. What is the better choice of beverage—a warm cup of tea or coffee, or a cold soda or beer?
Researchers gave two groups of participants a description of a person who was skillful, intelligent, determined, practical, industrious, and cautious, then asked them to rate the person on several other characteristics. Prior to reading the description, participants were asked to hold the researcher’s coffee for a moment (as the researcher made a quick note). Half were handed a warm cup of hot coffee and half were handed a cold cup of ice coffee.
Participants who held the warm cup judged the person in the description as being generous, caring and good natured (i.e., warm) while those who held the cold cup judged the same person as being irritable, antisocial, and selfish (i.e. cold). Again, both groups had read the exact same description. The only difference was the few moments they spent holding either a warm or cold coffee cup.
That is why you should perhaps opt for a nice cup of tea during a first date and not a cold soda or a beer, as it will put in a more positive state for judging your companion.
2. You’re negotiating a new purchase, or an important deal for work. What type of chair should you sit on—and what type should you offer to the person with whom you’re negotiating?
Another set of studies demonstrated that sitting on a hard chair makes us tougher (harder) negotiators while sitting on a soft chair makes us less aggressive (softer) negotiators. Therefore, it is to your advantage to sit on a hard chair and offer a soft chair to the other person.
3. You’re a woman going on a first date. What color blouse should you wear—red, green, blue, or gray?
In a study on the effect of color, men were shown pictures of the same woman, but wearing different color blouses—each man saw one picture with the woman wearing either a red, blue, green or gray blouse. The men consistently rated the image of the woman in the red blouse as sexier and more attractive. They also reported a greater desire to date the woman in red, and were willing to spend more money on a date with her than the same woman in a green, blue or gray blouse. Of note: The men did not perceive the woman in red to be more intelligent, kind, or likable—just more alluring. (Remember, it was the same woman in all the images. Only the color of her blouse was different.)
Therefore, women may want to consider wearing red on a first date (and having a warm beverage).
4. You’re trying to harness your creativity at work. What kind of light source should you use—a florescent light, a soft lamp, or a bare bulb?
We all associate a light bulb coming on with a “bright” (creative) idea. Studies found that turning on a light bulb during a task requiring creative problem-solving enhanced people’s creativity and enabled them to resolve problems more quickly than turning on a florescent light. In another study, participants were divided into two groups and given a problem that required an “out-of-the-box” solution. A first group of participants was asked to literally sit in a large cardboard box, and a second group to sit beside it (“outside the box”). As you might imagine, the participants who sat outside the box were significantly more likely to come up with creative solutions to the problem than those sitting inside the box.
You may want to switch on a naked bulb when you’re working on problems that require creativity and insight—or keeping a box beside you.
5. You want to maximize your workouts in your home or gym. Would a specific scent or smell help you?
Gyms are not usually known for having pleasant scents and many suffer from the aftermath of patrons consuming too many protein shakes, but a change might be on the horizon. Studies found that the smell of peppermint enhances physical exercise. Working out in peppermint-scented rooms made people perceive the workout as less difficult, and helped athletes perform better than during workouts in non-scented rooms.
Other studies found that cinnamon scents improved attention and memory, and that sweet smells enhanced altruism and helping behavior. As for your workouts—rather than trying to spray peppermint scent around the entire gym the next time you work out, try chewing a fresh stick of peppermint gum beforehand.
Lobel’s book has implications and takeaways for almost all aspects of life, including business and management (the length of the lines on an organization’s personnel charts have implications for how we perceive power and leadership); advertising and marketing (a company’s logo colors affect how we perceive its financial stability); as well as other aspects of our personal lives (how showering impacts our morality and cheating behavior). It will give you endless material for cocktail parties and dinner conversations. So grab a warm beverage, take a whiff of cinnamon and sit down in a comfy chair for a good read.
Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, keynote speaker, and author whose books have already been translated into thirteen languages. His most recent book is Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (Hudson Street Press, 2013). The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem (Walker & Company) was published in January 2011.
Dr. Winch received his doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University in 1991 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in family and couples therapy at NYU Medical Center. He has been working with individuals, couples and families in his private practice in Manhattan, since 1992. He is a member of the American Psychological Association.
In addition to the Blog on this site, Dr. Winch also writes the popular Squeaky Wheel Blog on Psychology Today.com, and blogs for Huffington Post.