Audiovisual Mirror Neurons: All About Moving to the Beat

•September 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Over the years, I’ve developed an interest in pop culture-based dance-themed movies. I’ve realized the hard way that I can’t dance, so I just choose to vicariously live out my dancer dreams through people—whether or not they’re fictional characters, it doesn’t really matter. I remember that my penchant for such all started with “Bring It On.” Now, it’s reflected in my interest in “So You Think You Can Dance” as well as my excitement to see the UP Pep Squad perform in the much anticipated UAAP Cheerdance Competition.

"Bring It On," the movie that started it all

One of my favorite performances from "So You Think You Can Dance"

What fascinates me most about the performances of a pair or group of dancers is their synchrony—with each other and with the music’s beat and tempo. For such performances, it’s like each dancer is a reflection of the rest—mirroring every movement flawlessly. Dance is motion at its finest. Applying perception principles, it may be that I am able to feel moved by a dance because of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons respond to action. For mirror neurons to fire, actions need not be carried out by the individual himself or herself, they just have to be observed. They function to help an individual understand another person’s actions and react appropriately to them.

It must be considered that in watching a dance, there are two sense modalities involved—vision and hearing. This is most evident in watching a tap dance performance. Each stomp, tap, and click is associated with an observed movement. There’s a specific term applied to mirror neurons that respond to the interaction of auditory and visual signals—audiovisual mirror neurons. In the scientific field of perception, results of psychophysical studies have provided ambiguous results regarding the audiovisual integration involved in mirror neurons. Arrighi, Marini, and Burr (2009) attempted to provide some clarity regarding the process by focusing on the audiovisual integration of mirror neurons for a form of biological motion where both sight and sound provide useful information: tap dancing.

Three subjects were involved in the study. Of the three, two were the authors, Arrighi and Marini. The third subject was a random female participant. All had normal hearing and normal or corrected visual acuity. Experimentation was conducted in two parts: facilitation and summation. All experimental procedures were carried out in a dimly lit, sound attenuated room. For both facilitation and summation, the sensitivity of the subjects for detecting tap dance sequences was measured. Subjects were presented with two three-second sequences, either visual or auditory or both. Subjects were required to identify which of the two sequences contained the tap dance sequence. For visual stimuli, what was used was a light-point tap dance stimuli consisting of six black discs of 1o diameter centered within a monitor screen. For auditory stimuli, the corresponding sound for each associated tap dance motion was used. The aforementioned stimuli were signals in the signal detection experiment. Corresponding visual and auditory noise was also created for each—random dots and arbitrary auditory tap sound sequences (without any predefined beat), respectively.

The facilitation procedure attempted to establish whether auditory information, uninformative in nature, could facilitate visual performance, specifically visual discrimination of tap dancing. Three separate conditions were used to gather results for this. In the first, only visual stimuli was presented, with one of the two three-second intervals containing the tap dance sequence. In the second, the correct auditory tap dance sequence soundtrack was added to both visual stimuli—one with noise alone and the other with the light-point tap dance sequence. This meant that one of the visual stimuli—the one with the light-point tap dance sequence—was synchronized with the soundtrack. This visual stimuli, moved to the beat, so to speak. Researchers rationalized that the auditory sequence was uninformative in nature because it was added to both visual sequences, with the subjects not knowing which of the visual sequences contained the actual light-point tap dance stimuli. In the third condition, the two visual stimuli were presented but with the auditory soundtrack added out of synchrony. For the three subjects, results showed that sensitivity to detecting the light-point tap dance stimuli was greatest when auditory information was present and synchronized with the visual sequence. According to the researchers, this suggests that the perceptual system’s audiovisual mirror neurons use coincident, uninformative auditory information to help disentangle target visual stimulus (the light-point tap dance sequence) from noise.

The second procedure—summation—was designed to investigate integration between auditory and visual signals when both are informative. This portion of the experiment was designed in such a way that for both two three-second sequences presented, the signals for visual and auditory stimuli used were equally detectable. Of the two sequences, one contained only auditory and visual noise. The other sequence contained both the visual and the auditory tap dance sequences. There were two conditions to this summation procedure. In the first, the visual and auditory signals were synchronized. They were presented out of phase for the second. Results showed an increase in sensitivity to detecting the tap dance sequence when the visual and auditory signals were synchronized. According to the researchers’ statistics, based on the Bayesian fusion model, the rate of increase could not be accounted for by the statistical predictions; thus, implying that physiological integration occurred between the synchronized auditory and visual signals.

From the facilitation procedure, it may be inferred that the synchrony of auditory and visual signals reduces temporal uncertainty; hence, facilitating detection of target stimuli. Auditory signals, when in synchrony with the visual stimuli, could serve as temporal references. In signal detection, this narrows the uncertainty of the visual signals and helps individuals ignore noise. The summation experiment strengthens this inference because improvement in detecting the correct tap dance sequence surpassed statistical predictions when stimuli were presented in synchrony with each other.

Upon reading the end of the actual research study, I found myself thinking: “So, what’s the point of all this?” It basically just elaborates on the process of how audiovisual mirror neurons work. It studies a hypothesis that can be extracted out of a simple, logical train of thought. Obviously, in any signal detection experiment, an individual would better detect a signal from noise when there’s another stimulus that could serve as a frame of reference (the synchronized auditory soundtrack to the light-point tap dance figure). But I suppose that in any scientific field, evidence must be provided to establish even ideas of the most logical nature. After all, the study of audiovisual mirror neurons is relatively new; there is much to learn and much to investigate. However, before launching into complicated experiments involving audiovisual mirror neurons’ influence in several aspects of perception, there needs to be a solid scientific understanding and framework of how audiovisual mirror neurons themselves function on the most basic level.  This is the significance of the research of Arrighi, Marini, and Burr (2009).

With regards to improving the study further, I find that the results of the experiment could have been better and less subject to skepticism with the sample size being greater and composed of subjects who are representative of a variety of age groups. With regards to the former, only three subjects were used and two of them were researchers of the study. It may be that others attribute the favorable outcome of the experiment’s results because of the possibly unfair edge researchers had that influenced their respective performances. After all, they have been studying perception for quite some time. It may be that their minds are more sensitive to auditory and visual signals that those who have had less training, exposure, and experience in such a subject. For the latter, measuring the performance of individuals from different age brackets may allow researchers to gain insight as to whether or not audiovisual mirror neurons process information in the same manner across a variety of stages in the human lifespan. Who knows, perhaps the processing power of these neurons may have some age-related component.

Discussing scientific applications of light-point stimuli, tap dancing, and auditory soundtracks has—for some inexplicable reason—led me to develop a hankering to watch “Happy Feet.” Being a Psychology major, I think that actually engaging in this activity has a worthwhile purpose—serving as positive reinforcement for completing this blog entry. And so, I end this blog entry and begin my journey in the land where penguins sing, talk, and dance.

It's "Happy Feet" time for me!


Arrighi, R., Marini, F., & Burr, D. (2009). Meaningful auditory information enhances perception of visual biological motion. Journal of Vision, 9(4), 1-7.

Image Sources:

Making My Way Downtown

•September 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Making My Way Downtown

By Michaela Chua

Have you ever ridden a car with GPS navigation? I for one was undeniably amazed with the gadget the first time I saw it function. I was amazed with its ability to provide direction and even traffic conditions for more advanced versions. The GPS capacity is even extended to provide landmarks such as gas stations, restaurants, and other prominent structures. This device, I thought, would allow me to go far away provinces without having to tediously study road maps before a trip! This would definitely make life a lot easier!

There are, however, some inconsistencies when using a GPS navigator. For one, the satellite database, which is utilized by the navigator, is not updated as soon as changes in the road and landmark systems are made. It is not unusual that new roads are opened, new prominent landmarks are made, and changes in the road system happen. At the same time, landmarks that were once there are sometimes replaced or even demolished altogether. These updates are not taken into account by GPS navigators at the instant that these changes are made. During these instances, the person behind the wheels should learn to navigate himself via stored memory.

It is a known fact that our environment gives us a wealth of information which help us navigate through the places we go to. There are so many factors to take into account when studying how humans find their way in different environment that it challenges researchers as to which salient features actually help individuals in their navigation. This said, studies cannot holistically take all factors into account in order to determine how humans find their way to different locations. Because of this, a lot of research has focused on isolating certain features of the environment while taking into account of how these features help in navigation.

One such study was done by Steck and Mallot (2000) who investigated on visual navigation by constructing global and local landmarks as tools to navigate a virtual environment they called “Hexatown”. As a brief overview, local landmarks are notable sights that are visible only if a person is relatively near the said object. Examples of local landmarks include a phone box and houses. In the experiment, local landmarks were only visible at one junction. On the other hand, global landmarks are similar to compass information. These landmarks are visible from a distance and do not change even when the observer moves. Examples of these are a hilltop, a television tower, and the city skyline.

Thirty two (32) individuals aged 15 to 31, 18 of which were male and 14 of which were female, participated in the study. Each was asked to go through two training phases and a test phase. For the first training phase, the participants were tasked to familiarize themselves in navigating to and from the office and vice versa until they perfected the route. On the second training phase, on the other hand, the participants were tasked to navigate their way from different starting points until they found the said location which is either the office or the house. During the test phase, two experiments concerning landmark changes were conducted. In the first experiment, landmarks that were placed in one area of the city were transposed to other locations. In the second experiment, on the other hand, only one type of landmark remained. That is, either local landmarks or global landmarks were used.

Results of the experiment show that local and global landmarks are used in navigation. Although some individuals used only either local or global landmarks, some used both. This indicates that different individuals make use of different strategies in navigation. For the second experiment, Steck and Mallot (2000) found out that even though one type of landmark was shown, participants were still able to find their way to their destinations. This goes to show that even though some participants made use of a certain landmark type more often, the other landmark type was still stored in memory, which enable navigation thorough the virtual city. Apart from these findings, it should be noted that landmark salience is also an important factor in an individual’s selection of landmark type. To illustrate this point, although it is known that global landmarks are more salient from afar (e.g. radio tower), it will less likely be used if an area is surrounded by trees which cover the radio tower. Likewise, local landmarks which are less relevant to the individual will less likely be used as compared to a more relevant landmark type.

Therefore, we can say that even though we are exposed to the same environment at a certain instance, our brains still function differently in the sense that we use different strategies to find our way. Different parts of the brain such as the parahippocampal place area (PPA) and parts of the parietal cortex are at work. However, it still depends on one’s experience and memory that influences us to choose which information will be used to find our way.


Steck, S. D., & Mallot, H. A. (2000). The Role of Global and Local Landmarks in Virtual Environment Navigation. Presence: Teleoperators & Virtual Environments, 9(1), 69-83. doi:10.1162/105474600566628


Hit Me With Your Best Shot

•September 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I am probably the biggest female sports junkie in the world. I take pride in my unbelievably high sports IQ and my ability to take down any guy who engages in a debate with me on why Kobe is better than Lebron, Shaq or any basketball star out there. I would rather spend my days in an arena filled with testosterone yelling at the referees than in a peaceful spa letting my hair down. Because of my love for sports, I have watched my favorite teams dance their way into the finals and sometimes tumble all the way to the end of the standings. This got me thinking, are there really good days and bad days in sports? Is there a way the sucky teams can up their standings through science? How contagious is skill and talent in sports?


During my hay days as an athlete

Rob Gray from the University of Birmingham and Sian Beilock from the University of Chicago seem to think so. In a study they conducted entitled “Hitting is Contagious: Experience and Action Induction” they came up with five hypotheses when it came to baseball. First is that the batting performance would be significantly better when the batter viewed an inducing prompt (an action that is said to somehow be related to the future action) that was successfully hit than when no prompt was presented. The second hypothesis is that when the batter hits the ball, its direction of travel would significantly be related to the direction of prompt (for example, more balls would be hit to the left field following a left prompt rather than a right prompt.).  The third hypothesis is that the magnitude of the induction effect, in this case, the difference between the prompt and no-prompt conditions, would be significantly greater when the prompt closely matched the action to be performed than when the prompt-action relationship was more abstract (verbal prompt). The fourth hypothesis is that the magnitude of the induction effects would be significantly greater for more-experienced batters than for less-experienced batters. Lastly, they hypothesized that the magnitude of the induction effect would decrease as the time interval between the inducing stimulus and the ball being hit increased.


New York Yankees' Jorge Posada

A series of tests were conducted to test their hypotheses. A baseball batting simulation was created for all experiments. The participants ranged from more-experienced batters (members of the NJCAA) and less-experienced batters (recreational baseball players). Each test was designed to test each hypothesis all through the computer-generated stimulation.

Through the tests, it was discovered that the first two hypotheses were strongly backed up by the results of the experiments. Batters performed the hitting task more successfully when they viewed a successful outcome. It was also seen that the angle the ball was hit usually followed a similar angle and direction like the inducing stimuli. Consistent with the third hypothesis, the induction effects found in the study by Gray and Beilock depended on the nature of the inducing stimulus. All batters experienced a larger induction effect when the ball was traveling from home plate into the field (action prompt) as compared to the ball resting in the field (outcome prompt). Perhaps this is due to the action of “hitting” that serves as a guide or perceptual information for the participants. The fourth hypothesis was also proven well. It’s true that the effect of action induction on hitting performance depended highly on the batter’s level of experience. Perhaps this is due to the more developed sensorimotor representations for directional hitting in more-experienced players. The study concludes that induction effects for more-experienced batters are greater in magnitude, decay at a slower rate and can be induced by both action and outcome stimuli. Lastly, results proved the final hypothesis. As the delay between the inducing stimulus and action execution increased, the magnitude of induction effect significantly decreased.

US OPEN's Federer working on his hits

I believe that this research can help coaches in their future games (Shoutout to the UP Men’s Basketball Team Coach). Maybe if coaches show a video of the action instead of saying the instructions vocally, players may be able to perform the instructions better. It also suggests that when a team’s performing well, slow down the pace to keep the consistency of excellence at par. When the team is unsuccessful and is performing poorly, the members of the team must move faster to get a higher chance at success.

Yes, science can actually make sports a lot more interesting. Perhaps if my favorite teams applied the science behind mirror neurons, visual perception and stimuli induction then they’d have a better chance at the crown. Maybe teams should allot more time in researching different techniques and study different perceptual concepts to help them get back on the winning column. Geeky as it may be, it may actually be the missing piece to the winning formula. After all, no one likes rooting for a losing team.

When will we finally win?



Gray, R. & Beilock, S. (2011). Hitting is contagious: experience and action induction.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied17(1), 49-59.


•September 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

So we’ve discovered in our perception class that according to the trichromatic theory, vision unimpaired humans have 3 color receptors that lets us see the colorful world all around us, letting us distinctively see approximately one million hues.

And here I thought these were the only colors of the world

However, a condition amongst certain women may make them see 100 times more than what other humans can. This is possible because of these certain women have one extra color receptors, giving them a total of four color receptors, making them tetrachromats. This color receptor is sensitive to wavelengths in between the usual red and green receptors, somewhere in the orange range. This condition is exclusive only to women because it can be traced to the X chromosomes, where the genes for the green and red cones lie. A genetic mutation in the X chromosome would allow this tetrachromatic color vision to happen, whereas trichromatic women would have the extra receptor sensitive to wavelengths so close to the other red receptor that it wouldn’t really make that much difference. No, it doesn’t make you see more colors compared to other people but instead gives you a superhuman ability to see more distinct colors across the already visible spectrum.

Those streaks of orangine surely defines this classic painting!

It may sound amazing, but this pales in comparison with color vision in other animals. Some animals see less colors than most humans, some, although being trichromatic, see a wider range of colors, while some just have more receptors than the normal human. These differences depend on their environment with color vision being a tool for survival.

Necessary for survival

As to us humans of today, tetrachromatic vision serves no real purpose at the moment, seeing how we already effectively live in the modern world. Of course, it would be arrogant to claim that it would not prove itself useful in the future. But just in case, here is a link to a tetrachromacy test to see if you are colorful one.



Color My Memory

•September 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Color My Memory

By Michaela Chua

If you had to buy a psychology book for the next semester, would you buy a colored book or a newsprint? Buying a newsprint will be cheaper but buying a colored book will be more interesting and fun to read.  Of course, if all of us had all the money we could spend, I am pretty sure everyone would  buy a colored book. Aside from the fact that each page looks more appealing, studies have shown that color actually affects recognition memory.

A 2002 study by Wichmann, Sharpe and Gegenfurtner entitled “The Contributions of Color to Recognition Memory for Natural Scenes” made a series of five (5) experiments to detect how color contributes to memory. This experiment was conducted on students from the University of Tubingen who had normal or corrected-to-normal vision.

Each of the experiments basically had two phases: a presentation phase and a query phase. For Experiment 1, the subjects were presented 48 images for the presentation phase at 6 different duration times per category. The images shown belonged to one of four categories for natural scenes namely: green landscapes, flowers, rock formations, and man-made objects. Half of the images presented per category were in black and white while the other half was colored. During the query phase, the subjects were asked to indicate whether the subject had already seen the images when presented along with new images from the 4 categories. Results show an 8% increase in visual memory for colored than for black and white images. This , therefore, indicates that color has a significant effect on recognition memory.

The second experiment conducted, on the other hand, tested contrast and memory performance. The methods were the same as experiment 1 only that 6 different image contrasts were used and exposure durations remained constant. When the contrast levels were above 40%, contrast became independent of a participant’s performance in recognition. Contrasts, therefore, are unlikely to affect recognition memory performance.

Experiment 3 participants, on the other hand, showed that if the participants were presented with a colored image in the presentation phase, but presented with a black and white image in the query phase, their performance worsened. This was also the case when black and white images were presented in colored form during the query phase. It should be noted, however, that when presented with exactly the same color in both phases, the colored images still had higher correct detections than the black and white images.

Experiment 4, on the other hand, had all images presented in black and white. 20 participants were presented with black and white images bordered by a black frame. Another 20 participants were presented with the same images that were bordered by either a red, green, or blue frame.  There was a 3% improvement on recognition memory for the image that were presented in a colored frame. The colored frames may have had an attentional or salience effect. However, this alone cannot account for the 8% increase in recognition memory in experiment 1.

Lastly, experiment 5 tested whether using false colors affected recognition memory. Natural greens in the image were turned into red. Blue was transformed into yellow. Results showed that although visual salience was present in the images with false colors, it did not improve recognition memory. It is suggested that there might be an interaction between an individual’s knowledge of his surrounding colors and the surface colors of a setting.

All in all, it could be concluded that color does increases an individual’s recognition memory as compared to black and white images. Color also increases attention to the object in focus.  Lastly, color is stored in memory which explains why unnatural looking colors do not increase recognition memory.

The findings of Winchmann, Sharpe, and Gegenfurtner (2002) shows that color does indeed help us in one way or another. Going back to the decision whether or not to buy a colored book, I would recommend buying a colored one because color alone already gets our attention as compared to black and white. Moreover, colored images increases a person’s recognition memory of the images that has been studied. Since you can recognize the images faster when it is presented in colored form, it will save you time studying and trying to recall what you have already studied or even just scanned through. These factors might help in getting you better grades!

Applying this in another domain, the effect of color on recognition memory might explain why billboard ads usually make use of colored advertisements to present and market their products. Apparently, they have been applying this study all along. Since  the goal of companies is to increase brand awareness, an increase in recognition memory for the ads they invest upon would definitely help in eventually planting their company names, products,and brands in the memories of potential clients.


Wichmann, F.A., Sharpe, L.T.,&  Gegenfurtner, K.R. (2002). The contributions of color to recognition memory for natural scenes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 28 (3), 509-520.


Pills and colorful things

•September 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

When I was younger, people would always tell me that the color pink is for girls, while blue for boys. My parents had the room of my sister and me with pink, while the room of my brothers is painted blue. I used to think that girls should like pink, like it was a rule. The same goes for the boys with blue. Now that I think about it, I realized how funny and immature that sounds. When I was in my later years in grade school, I eventually liked the color blue better than pink. The color blue seemed very relaxing to look at, and I’d associate it with the color of the sea (I love going to the beach!). I’ve heard of color of psychology couple of times before and it was in my Art Stud 1 class when I learned more about it. I looked it up and found some interesting information about colors.

The Color Wheel


  • Most emotionally intense
  • Stimulates faster heartbeat and breathing
  • Color of cars that is a popular target of thieves
  • Color of clothing that makes the person look heavy
  • Color of love
  • Color of furniture that attracts attention the most
  • Invokes feelings of power, fire, alarm, danger and emergency


  • Comforting
  • Suggest pacification and protective attitudes of a mother
  • Therapeutic and calming


  • Peaceful, tranquil
  • Cold, depressing
  • Symbolizes loyalty
  • Color used in bedrooms
  • Suggests productivity
  • Allows weightlifters to handle heavier weights (in blue-colored gyms)
  • Instills feelings of trust, expansiveness and confidence
  • Suggests health being


  • Energizing, gives happiness vibes
  • Attention getter
  • Provides hope and optimism
  • Might make perceivers lose temper
  • May be overpowering if overused
  • Enhances metabolism and concentration


  • Very vibrant and attracts attention
  • Denotes energy and warmth
  • Less intense than red because it is calmed by the cheerfulness of yellow
  • A stimulant
  • Suggests healthy living since it is a citrus color (Vitamin C content)
  • Color of autumn and summer

The report in class on the effects of colors on appetite got me interested since my best friend and I have an annual bake sale during the holidays. The Christmas season is nearing once again and learning about the different colors that might induce appetite might help us in advertising our bake sale. One thing I found is that although the color blue is very popular, it is the least appetizing since it was associated with spoiled and toxic food. Natural blue food is rare to us. On the other hand, red, green and brown are the most popular colors of food.

Naturally red colored food: Apple

Naturally green colored food: Vegetables

Naturally brown colored food: Coffee

Blue in rotten food

As I was searching for more food color psychology, I found a very interesting study. This study involved the color and shape of pills and how these factors affect the way patients feel about their medication. In this study, they found that the color red and pink were preferred most by the patients among all the other colors. Moreover, they also found that there were twice as many middle-aged people who preferred red tablets compared to the young adults. Also, more women preferred the color red than men. Another interesting find is that fourteen percent of the participants thought of the pink tablet as sweeter as compared to the red ones.

Red and Pink capsules

In relation to the psychology of color, I thought that one reason why patients chose the color red since it was seen as a natural food color. Moreover, as the most emotionally intense color, it might affect the feelings of the participants that in times of sickness, the color red provides intense emotions on the desire for treatment. I also thought of how love is suggested by the color red. Since women are said to be more emotional compared to men, this might be a reason why more women chose this color. Middle-aged people might have chosen the color red more than the young adults since the color red suggests fire and danger, which may have reminded them of their younger years and stimulated feelings of rush and youthfulness. The color pink was perceived as sweeter compared to the red, and one reason for this is because pink is seen as therapeutic and calming, which reminded the participants of the care of their mothers. The sweet taste may have also provided pleasant feelings that reminded them of how their mothers took care of them during their childhood.

In the study, they also found out that yellow was perceived as salty, blue and white as bitter, and orange as sour. Yellow may have been associated with providing energy and enhancing metabolism and since salt is usually found in our daily intake of food, this color may have suggested salt taste. Blue may have been associated with rotten or toxic food suggesting bitter taste and orange with citrus fruits suggesting sour taste.

Colors may suggest our moods and appetite by a lot more than we are usually aware of. This finding reminds us that our surroundings provide so many visual stimuli using colors. We should be more careful in examining these as to not fall into traps of consuming food and purchasing things.

By: Justine Ng


Experiencing a Cold Treatment.

•September 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It’s remarkable how we always engage ourselves in wordplay. There are so many words which have double meanings, such as the word feet, which can mean the body part or the unit of measurement. It makes you wonder then, how exactly do we assign these words to their specific meanings?

A wordplay that’s so interesting is coldness and warmness, which can be related to temperature, or to the treatment of individuals to other people. There are phrases such as giving the cold shoulder or icy stare, giving a warm applause or a warm hug, and being the ice queen or the warm body. Why exactly have these words been formed? Is it possible that this linguistic coupling has a deeper basis? Will someone literally feel cold when he is socially isolated, or in simpler terms, when he is treated coldly?

Do you have to experience snow just to feel cold?

Fortunately, this question was cleared by the researchers Zhong and Leonardelli (2008). To solve the problem, they held two different experiments. In the first experiment, there were two conditions. They either made the participants recall a past experience wherein they felt socially excluded or included in the group. Afterwards, they asked them to estimate the temperature of the laboratory room they were in, using the cover story that the information was requested by the lab maintenance staff and that it was totally unrelated to the study being conducted.

For the second experiment, they made the participants play in a virtual ball-tossing exercise.  The participants were made to believe that they were playing the game with other players online, but in reality, they were just playing a pre-programmed game wherein the ball will either be passed to them intermittently or only for the first two out of thirty throws. Subsequently, they were asked to answer a supposedly unrelated marketing survey and rated to the extent which they desired five different products, which were hot coffee, apple, two types of crackers, and icy Coke. Actually, this set-up made them choose from either warm (hot coffee) or control (apple and cracker, icy Coke) conditions.

Ball-tossing game

Ball-tossing game

Intriguingly, both experiments show that people indeed feel colder in a social exclusion condition. For the first study, those who were asked to remember an experience wherein they were socially excluded estimated the room temperature to be significantly colder than those who felt socially included.  For the second study, those who were excluded from ball-tossing game also preferred to obtain the warm drink instead of the control food. Those who were passed the ball intermittently didn’t have a significant difference to which drink they would prefer.

Cold versus warm drink in Study 2!

The findings of this research are consistent with past studies on embodied cognition which suggests that the individual’s social experiences are not independent of physical and somatic perception (Barsaluo, 1999; Varela et al., 1991, as cited by Zhong & Leonardelli, 2008). Thus, our interactions with other people shape how we perceive internal as well as external aspects of the self. With this, the connection between the different fields of Psychology can clearly be seen. We discussed in our Social Psychology class that one of its fundamental axioms is that our social and cognitive processes affect how we construct our reality. This experiment is a clear illustration of this idea. If we feel socially excluded, we perceive our environment to be colder, even if in actuality, there is no real difference. The social aspect of our lives indeed affects how we perceive and create our own realities. By linking the two fields of psychology, I think that this research took a very big leap. Though the whole experiment might seem trivial to others, I think that the way the study was conducted is very commendable.

When we were children, we were taught not to take in metaphors as they literally are. Metaphors are a “figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable” (Metaphor, 2011). This research states otherwise, though. Zhong and Leonardelli’s study says that the metaphors we use in our everyday life may not necessarily just be tools for communication. It may also be used to aid us in understanding the world around us (Bargh, 2006; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, as cited by Zhong & Leonardelli, 2008). Some metaphors might be a reflection of the ties between our social lives and our physical sensations. The associations that we make for various words may be a description of how we literally experience them. A good example of this idea is that when we were still infants, being held closely by the caregiver made us feel warm. According to Williams & Bargh, 2008 (as cited by Zhong & Leonardelli, 2008), this might be the one of the fundamental roots of why we often equate the word warmth with social closeness and inclusion while coldness is equated to social exclusion or distance.

All in all, I think that more researches like this should be done in the future. It’s really interesting and easy to understand, and yet it proves to be important because it contributes not only to the field of Perception, but also to the field of Social Psychology as well as Linguistics.

What’s the moral lesson of this study? The next time that someone complains about the warm weather, you don’t have to bring him somewhere cold because you already know what to do!


Bargh, J. A. (2006). What have we been priming all these years? On the development, mechanisms, and ecology of nonconscious social behaviour. European Journal of  Social Psychology, 36: 147-168.

Barsalou, L. W. (1999). Perceptual symbol systems. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22: 577–60.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Metaphor. (2011). Google Dictionary. Retrieved September 1, 2011.

Zhong, C., Leonardelli, J. G. (2008). Cold and lonely: Does social exclusion literally feel cold?, Psychological Science, Vol. 19, No. 9. (September 2008), pp. 838-842.

Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., Rosch E. (1991). The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT press, Massachusetts.

Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Temperature to temperament: Warm objects alter personality impressions. Unpublished manuscript, Yale University, New Haven, CT.