Classic and contemporary research on person perception has demonstrated the paramount importance of interpersonal warmth. 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. Study 4 provided evidence that people are not explicitly aware of the relationship between physical and social warmth (coldness), as they do not consider a target person who often bathes to be any lonelier than one who does not, with all else being equal. Together, these findings suggest that physical and social warmth are to some extent substitutable in daily life and that this substitution reflects an unconscious self-regulatory mechanism.
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