We Seem To Treat Physical Warmth As A Sign Of Safety

When we learn that something in our environment signals Threat!, we start to react to every encounter with the “fight or flight”, or “fear”, response. Recent work has shown, though, that the presence of someone we’re close to — a friend or partner, say, — can reduce or even eliminate this response. Our brains seem to treat such people as a powerful “safety” signal. 

This was thought to be a unique effect. But now a team led by Erica Hornstein at UCLA has shown that physical warmth does the same thing. The work, published in Emotion, was prompted by research finding that we implicitly associate physical warmth with social support. It has potential implications for treating anxiety disorders, especially for people who live alone — or who find it hard to unlearn links between certain stimuli and threat, as can happen with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Continue reading →

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