Touch Influences Decisions (Or: How to Save $350 on Your Next Car)


If you're buying a new car or negotiating the price of your dream house, try sitting in a hard chair. Feeling something solid will make you tougher, while touching something fluffy turns you into a big softie.

Touch is the first sense babies develop and experts know that tactile senses help us understand the world. Josh Ackerman from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John Bargh from Yale, and Christopher Nocera, a grad student at Harvard, expanded on this understanding in their paper, "Incidental Haptic Sensations Influence Social Judgments and Decisions," which finds what people hold or touch while making a decision influences their choice.

The trio asked participants to engage in real world role-play.

In one scenario, a subject interviewed another for a job. If the interviewer held a heavy clipboard, she considered the job applicant to be a more serious candidate. In other situations, participants were more likely to support government funding increases if they held a weighty clipboard. And the problems felt more significant if the subjects were holding something heavy. The researchers also described ambiguous social situations to subjects—those participants who played with a rough jigsaw puzzle considered the situation to be harsher and more confusing while those who played with a smooth puzzle did not feel baffled by the social interaction.

Perhaps the most useful finding dealt with buying a car. People sitting on soft, cushy chairs paid about $350 more for a car than those sitting in a stiff chair.