Is Feeling Cold an Emotion?

It is well known that emotions affect our physiological states. In addition, our experience of an affective stimulus can alter our perception of that stimuli. For instance, a cold temperature can make you feel chills or anxiety. Several studies have been conducted to test whether or not there are temperature-emotion associations. Some suggest that it is possible, but most researchers agree that these associations are minimal. However, they do appear to be real. Consequently, there is a need to better understand the connections between temperature and emotion.

The present study used a variety of methods to examine the associations between temperature concepts and emotion adjectives. First, the association between temperature concepts and positive and negative emotion adjectives was evaluated explicitly. Next, the valence and arousal of each of the emotion adjectives were measured. Finally, associations between emotion words and temperature were examined through the use of IAT. These experiments showed that there are positive relationships between temperatures and emotion adjectives.

For example, the highest mean value for a temperature concept was associated with a positively valanced emotion adjective. The lowest mean value for a temperature concept was associated a negatively valanced emotion adjective. Also, the most extreme temperature concepts were associated with high arousal emotion adjectives. This is the opposite of what was found in Experiment 1.

Another experiment explored the associations between temperature and emotion adjectives at an implicit level. Participants were given a list of word pairs that reflected their most recent feelings. One group recalled an experience of social acceptance, while another group recalled a social exclusion. Using a circumplex model of affect, associations were measured between each pair of word pairs and the various temperature concepts. Interestingly, the associations moved counterclockwise with increasing temperature.

To evaluate the effect of these associations, psychologists used a circumplex model of affect. A circumplex is a canonical diagram that describes the relationship between two concepts. Typically, it contains a central point, and the associations to each side move clockwise around it. Emotion adjectives are color-coded in the x-axis, and temperature concepts are color-coded in the y-axis. Each word pair was color-coded following the order in which the emotions are listed in the circumplex.

Results from Experiment 1 indicated that positive valance emotion adjectives and high arousal temperature concepts were associated. Specifically, the most significant associations were associated with the adjectives Energetic, and Passive. While the most significant associations were also present with the adjectives Relaxed, Uninspired, and Blue, the magnitude of these associations were not significantly different from zero. Moreover, these associations were relatively stronger than those incongruent with each other.

Similarly, in the second experiment, participants were asked to rate the arousal and valence of a pair of emotion words, using a temperature concept. Although the results were not as clear cut, they did show that arousal was the most obvious temperature-emotion association. Specifically, the average ratings of each pair of emotion words were significantly different when the temperature was increased, with the arousal of the adjectives rising from the left to the right and the valence of the adjectives rising from the right to the left.