'Tactile environment' affects decision making

By Emma Wilkinson
Health reporter, BBC News

  • Published
An office
Image caption,
The 'tactile' work environment may affect decision-making

If you want to negotiate a tough deal, make sure you are sitting on a hard chair, say US researchers.

In a mock haggling scenario, those sat on soft chairs were more flexible in agreeing a price.

The team also found candidates whose CVs were held on a heavy clipboard were seen as better qualified than those whose CVs were on a light one.

It shows that the "tactile environment" is vital in decision making and behaviour, they report in Science.

Overall, through a series of experiments, they found that weight, texture, and hardness of inanimate objects unconsciously influence judgments about unrelated events and situations.

It suggests that physical touch, which is the first of sense to develop, may be a scaffold upon which people build social judgments and decisions, the Harvard and Yale University researchers said.

Hard or soft

In one test, participants were asked to arrange rough or smooth puzzle pieces before hearing a story about a social interaction.

Those who worked with the rough puzzle were more likely to describe the interaction in the story as uncoordinated and harsh.

In a second experiment, subjects handled either a soft blanket or a hard wooden block before being told a story about an interaction between a supervisor and an employee.

The researchers found that those who touched the block judged the employee as more rigid and strict.

In the mock haggling scenario, individuals were seated in soft or hard chairs before engaging in a negotiation over the price of a car.

Those in hard chairs were less flexible, showing less movement between successive offers.

Study author Christopher Nocera said first impressions are liable to be influenced by the tactile environment, and control over this environment may be especially important for negotiators and job seekers.

"Touch remains perhaps the most underappreciated sense in behavioral research.

"The use of 'tactile tactics' may represent a new frontier in social influence and communication."

Professor Cary Cooper, an expert in organisational psychology at Lancaster University Management School said the work builds on findings that tactile relationships are important in social interaction.

"I can see that if people are sitting on a very comfy, relaxed couch being interviewed for a job they may not be as assertive and they may let their guard down.

"It's also about the ambience you create as well, not just the objects around you and the best environment will depend on what you want to achieve."

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