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Social judgments take touching turns

Tactile sensations can sway people’s negotiating tactics and first impressions

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2:43pm, June 24, 2010

Don’t be shocked if car sellers soon decide to seat prospective buyers in beanbag chairs, or maybe in La-Z-Boys. Soft seats subtly steer people away from driving hard bargains, a provocative new study suggests.

Objects’ tactile qualities, such as a chair’s softness or hardness, automatically call to mind associated metaphors, such as flexibility or rigidity, say MIT psychologist Joshua Ackerman and his colleagues. In this way, sensations of weight, texture and hardness surreptitiously create mindsets that influence how people think about and deal with others, the researchers propose in the June 25 Science.

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