Med thumb screen shot 2017 01 09 at 8.59.02 pm

There are plenty of ways to maximize chances of success on a first date: Be polite, be adorable, casually rattle off jokes (but not too many), refrain from saying "that's goals" or asking your date to be your MOM. But, other than improving your own behavior, what can you do to secure a "let's do this again" text? Well, here's one needlessly complicated, hard-to-execute idea: Try to influence how warm or cold your date is. If they seem taken by you, sit by the radiator or order them a piping hot drink. If they seem put off by you, sit by the door or make sure they're sipping something on the rocks. 

Why? Well, a 2015 study published in the British Journal of Psychology found that sensations of warmth and coldness affect interpersonal dynamics differently: When someone's in a less-than-ideal social situation, being cold makes them more likely to view and treat other people kindly regardless. But physical warmth exacerbates warm-and-fuzzy feelings when things are already going well. 

This concept's a little unwiedly. Let me explain further: A theory, called embodied cognition theory, says that abstract mental concepts are rooted in our physical bodies. In other words, we understand things like love and hate in terms of basic sensory experiences, e.g., being in pain, or being cold or hot. This relationship is easy to see in our use of temperature-related words to describe personality traits — we call people warm-hearted, hot-tempered, cool as a cucumber, etc. Warm words tend to be associated with emotional closeness and connectedness, whereas cold words imply distance and dispassion.

If you're spending the night with friends, huddled by the fire, wearing woolen knits and reminiscing about the good old days, then the closer the better. Bring on the hot cocoa and togetherness.

A good deal of research has established a link between physical and psychological warmth, finding that warm sensations (swallowing hot tea, sitting on a butt warmer) beget positive interpersonal experiences, which study authors described as "behaviors and attitudes that actively give positive responses to others, such as liking and caring, being helpful and trustworthy, and making an effort to understand others." In one 2011 study, for instance, people who held a warm object were more likely than people holding something chilly to choose to give gifts to other people rather than to themselves. But, the warm-touch, warm-emotions connection hasn't held up in every case — high temperatures have also been associated with increased violence and aggression. 

In an effort to resolve these inconsistent findings, psychologists from Peking University in Beijing proposed that warm sensations only make people more helpful, generous and patient if they're already in a positive social situation. If they're in a crappy situation, coldness is the way to go. Here's their reasoning: Warm sensations make us feel closer to other people, but feeling close to other people only improves our interactions with them sometimes.

For instance, if you're spending the night with friends, huddled by the fire, wearing woolen knits and reminiscing about the good old days, then the closer the better. Bring on the hot cocoa and togetherness. (On a side note, the bonding power of drinking hot beverages comes up in discussions of "koselig" and "hygge," which are hard-to-translate Scandinavian terms that describe the fuzzy feelings sparked by cozy, wintertime activities. Since last winter, it's been trendy to embrace koselig, rather than uphold the American tradition of whining about frozen snot until March.)

But, if you're stuck on the subway, sandwiched between bodies, then the last thing you want to feel is closer to people around you. Instead, psychological distance would help someone muster the composure to smile at strangers nestled against their clavicle. In this case, a cold sensation would bring out a warm disposition. 

Researchers ran a few experiments to confirm their hypothesis that, when people are in a frustrating situation, cooling down helps them keep calm/carry on more than heating up does. In one experiment, Chinese college students who touched a cold object said they were more likely to forgive a classmate for copying their term paper, compared to participants who'd touched a hot object.

In another, slightly bizarre experiment, different college students were placed in chilly, temperate or warm rooms and told to imagine they were picking up a package for a friend. In the hypothetical package-retrieval situation, half of the participants received good, fast customer service, while the other half enountered rude, careless service. Service notwithstanding, participants were told they then opened the package and discovered that something (a spoon) was missing. Researchers asked them to determine whether or not they'd lodge a complaint about the spoon issue.

It depended. Temperature alone didn't determine how likely they were to groan. But, temperature combined with customer service quality did. Among participants who'd dealt with poor service, being in the cool room corresponded to a lower likelihood of complaining. But, when people had good service, being in the warm room made them less likely to report the missing spoon. So, temperature and social context (service quality) jointly affected their tolerance for spoonlessness in opposite ways. 

The highly hypothetical nature of the experiments was a weakness of the study. But, it's also the kind of research with fairly obvious real-life applications. Researchers suggested it might make sense to keep the temperature warm-ish at a welcome party to set the stage for max bonding. Or, as they wrote, "a cup of ice water might be a better choice than a cup of hot coffee on the negotiation table." And then, of course, there's our handy "control the temperature of your date's drink" idea.