To avoid the chills this winter, you should pile on your sweater, jacket, mittens—and blinders. A new study published by a team of researchers led by Neil Harrison, a neuropsychiatrist at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, reveals that just looking at a shivering person can make your own body temperature drop.
In their study, Harrison and his team measured the temperatures of 36 participants’ hands. They then showed the participants one of three videos: an actor placing his hands in ice water; an actor filling a container with steaming water from a tea kettle and submerging his hands; or neutral scenes of the actor resting his hands in a still container of water. The researchers found that, upon taking the participants’ hand temperatures after watching the videos, those who witnessed the icy water scenes experienced a drop in body temperature. Those watching the hot water or neutral scenes displayed no change.
In layman’s terms, watching another person experience cold temperatures makes you feel cold as well. But, unfortunately, watching someone experience warm temperatures does not get your body heat rising. Bummer, right?
Harrison’s team presents two possible explanations for the incongruity. One is that the warm water videos were “less potent.” While the ice in the cold water clearly indicated a frigid temperature through the cold water videos, Harrison explains in a press release, “the only cues that the water was warm was steam at the beginning of the videos and the pink color of the actor's hand.”
The other is that people are more sensitive to those who appear cold than those who appear hot.
[h/t NYMag/Science of Us]