Shared Neural Mechanisms Underlying Social Warmth and Physical Warmth

University of California, Los Angeles.
Psychological Science (Impact Factor: 4.43). 09/2013; 24(11). DOI: 10.1177/0956797613492773
Source: PubMed


Many of people's closest bonds grow out of socially warm exchanges and the warm feelings associated with being socially connected. Indeed, the neurobiological mechanisms underlying thermoregulation may be shared by those that regulate social warmth, the experience of feeling connected to other people. To test this possibility, we placed participants in a functional MRI scanner and asked them to (a) read socially warm and neutral messages from friends and family and (b) hold warm and neutral-temperature objects (a warm pack and a ball, respectively). Findings showed an overlap between physical and social warmth: Participants felt warmer after reading the positive (compared with neutral) messages and more connected after holding the warm pack (compared with the ball). In addition, neural activity during social warmth overlapped with neural activity during physical warmth in the ventral striatum and middle insula, but neural activity did not overlap during another pleasant task (soft touch). Together, these results suggest that a common neural mechanism underlies physical and social warmth.

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Available from: Tristen K. Inagaki, Sep 26, 2014
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    • "To address this possibility, this study examined the association between loneliness and reward-related activity to images of close others (vs strangers). Based on its role in reward anticipation , sensory-specific satiety, and close social relationships (Aron et al., 2005; Strathearn et al., 2008; Acevedo et al., 2011; Inagaki and Eisenberger, 2013), analyses focused on the VS. Following the premise that loneliness stems from a felt lack of social connection and intimacy with one's closest friends (Williams and Solano, 1983), it was hypothesized that greater loneliness would be associated with reduced feelings of connection with the close other. "
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    • "By contrast, when we feel loved by and socially connected to others, social warmth is experienced. In a similar manner, the underlying neural representation of social warmth is found to be similar with that of physical warmth (Inagaki and Eisenberger, 2013). It is worth noting that in daily life, there are occasions when others' actions are not explicit, and we can only infer their intentions from observed outcomes. "
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    • "This overlap is thought to stem from early childhood experiences of physical warmth (or lack thereof), which are later abstracted to broader concepts of (social) warmth and coldness (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999; Williams, Huang, & Bargh, 2009). This ''embodied'' notion has been supported by findings showing that experiences of physical or social warmth lead to activation in the same brain regions (Inagaki & Eisenberger, 2013). Similarly, the sensation of physical coldness increases feelings of social coldness toward others (IJzerman & Semin, 2009). "
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