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The way we behave is influenced by the texture of our surroundings

Posted on January 12, 2018 by Fresh Workspace

When it comes to how we think, behave and interact with other people, we may be affected more than we might assume by our sense of touch. This idea is supported by research such as that from Simon Storey and Professor Lance Workman from the University of South Wales. In a recent presentation to the British Psychological Society’s annual conference, they announced the results of research which showed that people cooperate a lot more effectively with each other when they’ve been holding hot, as opposed to cold, objects. The researchers asked the study’s subjects to carry out a simple test that depends on collaboration for a successful outcome. Before performing the task, participants were asked to hold either hot or cold objects. The results showed that individuals who held hot objects cooperated significantly more frequently when they had held cold objects.

The implications are clear – if you’re working with somebody, make them a hot drink first. This may just go beyond common courtesy and hospitality and actively change the way you work together. It also proves something we’ve known for a while, namely that our behaviour is affected by our tactile environment – the feel, texture and temperature of our surroundings and the products we use.

That was also the conclusion of a series of experiments carried out by psychologists from Yale, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010. Amongst their findings they discovered:

  • An experiment to test texture’s effects saw participants asked to arrange rough or smooth puzzle pieces before hearing a story about a social interaction. Those who worked with the rough puzzle were likelier to describe the interaction in the story as uncoordinated and harsh.
  • A related experiment into the feel of materials showed how passive touch can shape interactions. Subjects seated in either hard or soft chairs engaged in mock haggling over the price of a new car. Subjects in hard chairs were less flexible in their dealings with other people and also judged others as less emotional.
  • In another test of hardness subjects were asked to handled either a soft blanket or a hard wooden block before being told an ambiguous story about a workplace interaction between a manager and an employee. Those who touched the block judged the employee as less flexible.

There is clearly something primal in discovering that good design should be about more than what we can see. Our visceral responses to textures, temperatures and other tactile characteristics influence our behaviour and the way we see the world, often in ways of which we are unaware.

This has profound implications for the way we design spaces and the materials we specify. We might assume that we are influenced primarily by visual prompts such as colour, but the truth is that we are also actively and often unconsciously influenced by other characteristics of our surroundings. A well designed office should take account of all of our senses.

That is why so many wallcovering, flooring and fabric manufacturers design and develop the materials and technology to produce finishes that not only look natural but feel it too. It is also just one of the reasons we continue to furnish our surroundings with wood. plants too, can offer a space a textural ambience.

It’s not just the idea of nature that influences the way we feel about texture. Textured building materials can also help to transform a space and we are fortunate that we are constantly being introduced to new materials and finishes that can tap into this hardwired urge and its associated emotions and behaviours.

Image: Interface