Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Cold solitude, filthy sins: not so metaphoric

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Scientific American published a few days ago an interesting interview with social psychologist Chen-bo Zhong, who researched how some metaphors of the mind are not so abstract. When people feel socially excluded, they literally feel colder, and:

“When people’s moral self image is threatened, as when they think about their own unethical past behaviors, people literally experience the need to engage in physical cleansing, as if the moral stain is literally physical dirt.”

I wonder if this is related to some other fascinating research, such as the ones with the rubber-hand illusion. This already classical illusion involves people feeling a rubber-hand is part of their body, and tellingly, that their own hidden-hand no longer exists. What has been found in a recent research is that the hidden-hand slightly disconnected from conscious awareness experiences an actual drop in temperature. That is consistent with the finding that schizophrenics also have a lower body temperature. Perhaps people socially excluded not only feel colder, they may actually be colder. I hope further research may investigate this.

Granted, I don’t think unethical people are physically dirtier than ethical ones, so this is not all so literal, but this link between abstract concepts and perception also reminds me of synesthesia, and some wildly interesting current research is worth pointing out.

Ferrine Spector and Daphne Maurer, at McMaster University, conducted experiments that suggests all of us may have some degree of superposition between our senses.

“Significantly more people than chance, for instance, associated the smell of mushrooms with the colours blue or yellow. Lavender elicited the colour green and the texture of sticky liquid, while ginger was perceived as black and sharp.”

Another experiment, by Ursina Teuscher at the University of California, found that many people who didn’t declare themselves synaesthetes managed to produce associations quite consistent with synaesthesia.

These works were mentioned at New Scientist, and suggest more intermingling between our senses and abstract concepts than we commonly assume.

If you have been reading this blog since last year, then you know we here think we don’t actually think the way we think we think, as we are all zombies, so this is not all that unexpected.

As a filthy debunker, I must also speculate that these largely unexplored unconscious associations between different senses and concepts may have an even more unexplored relevance to psi research. If people consistently share an unnoticed bias, that could affect several experiments attempting to investigate telepathy, for instance. What may look like a very small but consistent anomaly could be product of such bias. Which is not supernatural at all.

Now I have to go to the shower.

References
Cold and Lonely: Does Social Exclusion Literally Feel Cold? (PDF);
Washing Away Your Sins: Threatened Morality and Physical Cleansing;
Psychologically induced cooling of a specific body part caused by the illusory ownership of an artificial counterpart;
The colour of Os: naturally biased associations between shape and colour;
Neural constraints on synesthetic mappings and conceptual metaphors: The case of time and space.

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Posted in Miscelaneous,Science | 6 comments

6 Comments so far

  1. MachineElf October 23rd, 2008 8:16 pm

    Mori wrote:

    “As a filthy debunker, I must also speculate that these largely unexplored unconscious associations between different senses and concepts may have an even more unexplored relevance to psi research. If people consistently share an unnoticed bias, that could affect several experiments attempting to investigate telepathy, for instance. What may look like a very small but consistent anomaly could be product of such bias. Which is not supernatural at all.”

    Speculation is fine, but it doesn’t work so well when experiments are done blind, and with subjects isolated from each other.

  2. Mori October 26th, 2008 6:14 pm

    MachineElf, but what I suggested is exactly that these unconscious shared bias might play some influence on allegedly blind, isolated, subjects.

    For instance, the color of the walls in the lab where two subjects entered might influence them to suggest the same seemingly unrelated impressions, like mushrooms (in the study quoted above, people associated mushroom smells with the colors blue or yellow).

    This is not supposed to be a final dismissive explanation for all reported anomalous psi phenomena, but I think this kind of subtle influence must be taken into account, as we now know a bit more on the subject.

    Who knows, I speculate that it could produce a statistically relevant “anomaly”.

  3. Remembering Forgetomori ’2008 | forgetomori December 31st, 2008 7:49 pm

    […] Don’t forget to Wash away your sins. […]

  4. Forest February 25th, 2009 12:44 am

    Nice, finally found the article, looked for this all over the site

  5. […] thought this for a long time. Interesting connection to psi research at the end though. Category: Language, […]

  6. Jace January 6th, 2013 9:26 pm

    It’s unhealthy for us to be alone for extended periods of time. We are social animals. That doesn’t mean we should be packed into our living spaces and not have personal space. It means we need human contact of a kind we have consented to by desire (not by situation). So, when you’re lonely, do you maybe feel cold as a biological encouragement to seek the warmth of another human being’s body?

    Loneliness sucks. I know it far too well. And, boy, it’s cold in here.

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