National Geographic News
Businesspeople exchanging business cards.
People exchange business cards of different textures (file photo).

Photograph by Move Art Management, Corbis Images

John Roach

for National Geographic News

Published June 24, 2010

Job seekers take note: Resumes printed on heavy paper stock are likely considered more seriously than those on lightweight sheets.

That's the finding of a new study that reveals our sense of touch unconsciously influences our thoughts and moods.

"When people physically experience weight—when they feel heavy things—it makes them see the world in a more serious and important way," said study leader Joshua Ackerman.

(See: "Warm Your Hands, Warm Your Outlook?")

Ackerman and colleagues created six experiments where they gave people similar objects of different textures and weights, such as  heavy or light clipboards and rough or smooth jigsaw puzzle pieces. Handling the objects affected the subjects' impressions and decisions, the study found.

For instance, when seated in a wooden chair instead of a cushioned chair, people were more rigid in negotiations over the price of a new car.

"Turns out, you sit in a hard chair, you become less willing to negotiate," said Ackerman, an assistant professor of marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Overall, holding rough objects made subjects feel that social interactions were more difficult, the study noted.

"Rough Day" Not Just a Saying

The relationship between touch and thought likely begins at birth, scientists believe. (Test your knowledge of your brain.)

Our first experiences are physical, Ackerman noted. As we grow older and interact with the world in more abstract ways, we continue to draw on physical experiences to communicate.

Hence the terms "rough days" and "weighty decisions," he said.

"So a lot of the particular physical experiences that we have naturally sort of become tied to, or associate with, our mental understanding of the world," he said.

"And when that happens, those ties, those associations, they don't ever disappear. So you can actually trigger changes of people's understanding of the world by having them experience different physical experiences."

(Related: "Voter Decision Affected by Polling Place, Study Finds.")

The new findings, Ackerman added, can be used by marketers, designers, and pollsters "to shape the ways people interpret the situations they are in."

Findings published tomorrow in the journal Science.

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