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On Loneliness, Warmth and Making Friends

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Do you remember your mom telling you that when you move into a new neighborhood, take your empty sugar bowl, knock on the neighbor’s door, ask to borrow a cup of sugar and invite them over for hot tea or coffee? Evidently, that strategy made a lot of sense as proven by research done at the University of Colorado Psychology and Yale University, Departments of Business. Their research, involving two experiments, provides strong evidence to support the notion that the experience of physical warmth results in the perception of personal warmth.

Here is a brief description of how the experiments were done and the results:

Experiment I.

Researchers wanted to see if the experience of warmth or cold affected how subjects viewed others.

A. Graduate and undergraduate students were randomly selected to participate in a questionnaire survey. When the students were asked to ride in the elevator up to the offices where the "questionnaire" would be filled out, they were asked to hole a cup of coffee in order to free the hands of the individual escorting them. This was done in such a benign and absent minded way that the subjects had no idea that the coffee was part of the research.

B. Some student subjects were asked to hold a hot cup of coffee and others were asked to hold a cup of iced coffee.

C. After they entered the offices they returned the coffees to their owners and the subjects were asked to meet and evaluate, by way of the questionnaire, the particular individuals whom they had just been introduced to.

D. Results: The students who held the hot cups of coffee described the individual as being very warm. In addition, and as a surprise to the researchers, they also described the individual they were evaluating as someone whom they could trust and whom they were sure was an honest and generous person. The students who held the iced coffee had very different reactions to the person they met. Their descriptions ranged all the way from neutral to viewing the person as distant and cold.

In other words, the warm stimulus of holding hot cups of coffee influenced how these subjects viewed others.

Experiment II:

The researchers wanted to see if the physical experience of warmth and cold affected self concept in these areas.

A. Subjects were asked to hold a therapeutic pad, such as athletes use after competition. Some of the pads were hot and some of them were cold.

B. Afterwards, subjects were given questionnaires having to do with how they viewed themselves.

C. Results: Those who had the experience of holding the hot therapeutic pads viewed themselves as warm and trusting people. Those who held the cold pads viewed themselves as being distant and as not being very trusting of other people.


Many people send E. Mails to Mental Help Net describing terrible feelings of loneliness because of their difficulties in forming friendships. This research points to the concept that our early experience of warmth through being held and cuddled going back to infancy and even inter uterine life deeply affects how we see ourselves and others. In this scenario, the experience of warmth continues to be important into the present. In other words, it is entirely possible to learn how to trust and be warm and friendly to others through present day experiences.


For those of you who struggle with feeling lonely and isolated, it could be a good idea to invite the neighbors over for hot coffee and tea with or without cake and cookies. That would a long way to building bridges to other people.

I recently posted an article about the use of metaphors. This is another example of how language carries deeper meanings than we are sometimes consciously aware of. For example, this really a lot of meaning to be found in the metaphor about "having a house warming party."

So, if you want to make friends, including with someone of the opposite sex to whom you are attracted, invite them out for hot coffee or tea. It really is a "heart warming" idea.

Your comments are welcome and warmly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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