Looking at photos of cold scenes can improve self-control

Winter scene


Looking at photos of cold scenes can improve self-control


A new study by scientists at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University (BGU) have discovered that recognizing cold temperatures leads to greater cognitive control – even from a photo.

Greater cognitive control enables your mind to ignore or overrule your impulses and make decisions based on goals. It also enables you to make choices to maximize your long-term best interests. An example of a person exhibiting cognitive control is if someone is hungry and sees a sandwich but chooses not to eat it.

Measuring the effects of the perceived temperature

According to Dr. Idit Shalev of BGU, metaphorical phrases including temperature such as “coldly calculating”, “heated response”, and “cool-headed” actually have some scientific validity.

“Previous research has focused on the actual effect of temperature on the psychological phenomenon known as ‘cognitive control,’ but this is the first time we were able to measure the effects of perceived temperature,” she said in a statement. 

Imagining yourself in a cold climate

The study consisted of two experiments. In the first experiment, 87 participants were asked to perform an “anti-saccade task” (saccade is a rapid movement of the eye between fixation points). This requires looking in the opposite direction of a moving object and measures cognitive control.

The second experiment required 28 participants to perform the same task, but they were also asked to physically imagine themselves in a picture of winter scenery, a temperature-neutral street, or a sunny landscape which was shown as the background image in the test.

“The results indicated that those viewing the cold landscape did better, and that even without a physical trigger, cognitive control can be activated through conceptual processes alone,” Shalev says. 

The researchers also examine the possibility that there is a common explanation for the relation of temperature and cognitive control with social proximity. “While warmth signaling promotes a relaxed attitude, cool signals alertness and a possible need for greater cognitive control,” the study concludes.


Read the original study here.


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