I grew up drinking tea: sometimes loose leaf, sometimes teabag, the stronger, the better. Liquid comfort food for body and soul! And so, gatherings at our home—especially in our frigid Michigan winters and chilly springtime!—are never complete without hot tea. Conversations seem to flow more easily when people are sipping hot beverages, and I have long surmised that hot tea truly does have both physical and psychological benefits.
And science has borne this out—and I don’t even mean ingesting the beverage, but simply holding it!
Touch (haptic sensation) is the first of our senses to develop, and although we generally focus on sight, hearing, and taste, we may be unconsciously responding to touch far more than we think. Intriguingly, many researchers have investigated how merely holding a warm object shades both our perceptions and our actions.
When we are physically warm, we can project that feeling to both people and objects. So when, for example, we hold a cup of a hot beverage, we may more generously view other people, believing them to have a “warm” personality. In fact, in first impressions, we partly evaluate others with a “warm-cold dimension,” with “warm” encompassing, as you would expect, positive qualities such as trustworthiness and friendliness. We transfer—without being aware of it—physical sensations to the psychological. Further, holding a hot object makes us more likely to be more generous, more prone to selecting a gift for a friend rather than for ourselves. As explained in Science (322:606–7), the same part of the brain processes “both the physical and the psychological versions of warmth information.”
Other fascinating research (nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/05/29) indicates that people who might otherwise have negative feelings (in this study, if they were in an “excluded” versus an “included” group) instead had more positive feelings if they were given a warm cup of tea to hold. Additionally, the “excluded” were more likely to request warm rather than cold beverages, presumably to make themselves feel less an outsider. And, again, those who held hot objects were more willing to trust others.
Viewing others more generously, and treating them more kindly, is always a worthy goal. And if a cup of our favorite hot tea helps us along that path, that just gives us yet another reason to indulge in our favorite brew.