The next time you absently palm that paperweight on your desk, ponder this: The physical characteristics of the objects you touch can influence how you perceive the world. Holding a heavy clipboard, for example, may lead you to view a job applicant as more serious. And, according to a new study, running your hand over sandpaper may make you view social interactions as more hostile and competitive.
The idea that our physical environment can influence our thinking—a concept called “embodied cognition”—is not new. In 2008, researchers reported that simply holding a warm cup of coffee prompts us to view others as emotionally warmer. Last year, a separate group found that holding a heavy clipboard makes us perceive social-justice issues as more important: In a theoretical scenario, volunteers holding a heavy clipboard were more likely to support a student grievance with a university committee than were those holding a light clipboard.