Researchers at Yale University claim people who take long, hot showers or baths may do so to ward off feelings of loneliness or social isolation, and say their findings could help treat mental illnesses and social phobias.
They conducted four studies – the first of which concluded that people suffering from chronic loneliness use hot baths or showers as a substitute for emotional warmth.
A second study showed that physical coldness induces feelings of loneliness, whilst a third demonstrated that the need for socialising or emotional wellbeing, triggered by memories of past rejection, could be relieved through physical warmth.
A further study showed that the above behaviours are all subconscious, and that most people’s perception of someone who takes long baths or showers is that they are sociable and happy.
The more isolated a person feels, the more baths or showers they will take a day, the hotter they will be, and the longer they stay in the bath or shower.
Interestingly, it’s also thought that holding a warm drink can make someone more trusting and generous towards others.
Researchers say their findings have potential significance for the treatment of severe mental and social disorders with major public health benefits.
Just as elderly people often relocate to warmer climates, the study points out that there may be benefits to people with mental health difficulties in doing so.
John A. Bargh and Idit Shalev’s study was funded by a grant by the American National Institute for Mental Health.
Charlotte Fantelli, editor of Uncovered, commented: “I think this is a lovely story. When I was at my lowest I often took long baths and they were a great sense of comfort — it was like somebody reaching out a hand to me at times of despair”.
As added support for the idea that we might use warmth to feel better psychologically, the Yale researchers ran another study where they asked people to recall a lonely experience.
When people were given the opportunity to hold a hot pack as they thought about their loneliness, they had less negative feelings about their exclusion experience than people who didn’t get to embrace something warm.
Interestingly, people aren’t aware of using physical temperature as a way to change their feelings. When we see a person who takes a lot of baths or showers, we don’t view him or her as lonely.
But, our behavior – at least at an unconscious level – suggests that we see loneliness as a social coldness; a negative emotional state that can be tempered through physical warmth.