Monday, July 5, 2010

Touching is Important

Here is a fascinating article from Discovery on how what we touch affects our judgment.

First off, in two experiments reminiscent of another study I’ve written about, Ackerman showed that holding a light or heavy clipboard can affect a person’s decision-making. In a study of 54 volunteers, those who clutched the heavier board rated a job candidate more highly based on their resume, and thought that they displayed a more serious interest in the job. They even rated their own assessments as being more important! However, the boards didn’t affect the recruits’ judgments on areas unrelated to importance, such as the candidate’s ability to get along with others.

In a second test with 43 volunteers, those who held the heavier boards were more likely to call for government funds to be spent on serious social matters like setting air pollution standards, over more trivial affairs like public toilet regulations. Again, the mere feeling of weight appears to influence the importance we give to matters.
Ackerman also looked at the influence of an object’s hardness. He asked 49 volunteers to touch either a hard block of word or a soft blanket, under the pretence of examining objects to be used in a magic act. Afterwards, when they read an interaction between a boss and an employee, those who felt the wood thought the employee was stricter and more rigid than those who touched the blanket (but no less positive). It doesn’t have to be the hands that do the touching either – when he repeated the same task with 86 volunteers who sat in either a hard, wooden chair or a soft, cushioned one, he found the same results. “We primed participants by the seat of their pants,” he writes.

The chair experiment also gave Ackerman the opportunity to test the effect of hardness on decision-making. He asked his recruits to place two offers on a $16,500 car, the second following a straight refusal of the first by the dealer. While the volunteers offered the same average amount at first, those who sat on the softer seats offered far more on their second go than on their first. That’s consistent with the idea that hardness has connotations of rigidity and stability. People who feel hard sensations are less likely to shift in their decisions. Harder chairs made for harder hearts.

This is really neat stuff and I can see companies and marketers using this to influence in all sorts of ways we won't realize.

Interestingly, just a few days before I read this I was thinking about the growing prevalence of hands-free devices. I began wondering how that would impact our understanding of and feeling toward these technologies. There is something about touching an object that helps us connect with it. Think about your car, the feel of the wheel in your hands, the gas pedal as you press it down, the gentle rumble (or not depending) of it as you drive it. This makes the car come alive in a way making it more than just a metal husk taking you from A to B.

I also wonder where this will lead. If we become more and more reliant on hands-free devices, how will that affect our relationships with other people? Will we value more the physical contact we make with loved ones (hugs, handshakes, and more) or will we place less emphasis on these as we become used to interacting with things without actually touching them? I don't know, but is something to think about while I physically press the keys on my laptop to type this.

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