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Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012


This post has been written as a submission for a creative-type project found at

People were asked to address the question 'Is Sunshine Enough?' and at the urging of a friend I have decided to contribute.

Given that it was not strictly an 'essay' competition the narrative in this post is a little lacking. As I noted in a preface to the individuals who asked the question, I have decided to let the science speak for itself...


Is Sunshine Enough?

Is Sunshine Enough? Enough for what? Perhaps more importantly, for whom, and to what end? If we can accept that Sunshine is something that might make us tick we need to question why? And why again? Then why again, once more.

Having looked at the science, having asked why, I have to say that Sunshine is not enough. Warmth is what we need. Warmth is what makes each of us tick. Warmth is enough.

First we need to examine what we know about Sunshine, about the weather, and about the whom and the to what end. A group of researchers headed by Jaap Denissen (of Humbolt-University, Berlin) asked over 1,200 individuals to keep a diary of wellbeing between July 2005 and February 2007. They then cross-referenced their data with objective measures of the weather. Not only were they able to ask Is Sunshine Enough? They were able to ask How much Sunshine might be enough? and to question the temperature, the wind, and the air pressure.

They found that Sunshine is not enough. Nor is anything else, alone, responsible for influencing our wellbeing positively. As disappointing as this finding is, it was not unexpected. Two prior studies reported similar conclusions. However, Denissen notes that some interesting variation exists between individuals. It is possible, consistent with the popular belief, that Sunshine is enough for some people… but to accept this we must also accept that the opposite is true for some others. The opportunity to sing in the rain may be as pleasant and uplifting as warming one’s skin is for another. Personally, I like this idea.

That’s not to say Sunshine doesn’t factor into our cognitions, into our behaviour. When the sun shines, there are a great many other things happening. The only claim we can make is that it doesn’t contribute, generally speaking, to making us feel good.

Whatever is happening, however it motivates us, it is a blade that cuts both ways. Two Japanese researchers in Tokyo examined the impact of the weather on homicide… and distressingly found that days in which the sun graced our sky murder rates were higher than days in which the sun was hidden by Snow, Rain, and Clouds.




Sunny Days had, overall, the highest rates of Murder. More importantly, days which the Sun was visible with either clouds and/or rain were equally different from days in which there was no Sun at all.

Perhaps, as they claim, when it shines we all move outside to play. The greater the density of people there is, the greater the likelihood that murder will be committed. Days in which it rains, as gloomy as some of us expect them to be, are days in which we keep to ourselves, keep indoors, keep our heads down and our bodies moving quickly.

The macabre possibility also exists (though not an opinion offered by the authors) is that perhaps murders like the sunshine as much as anyone else. One man’s picnic, so they say…

But where sunshine fails to be enough it’s possible that warmth fills the gaps. And it’s likely that only a little warmth goes a long way.

Imagine, if you will, that you’ve been asked to participate in a psychology study. The researcher meets you outside the building and escorts you to the lab on the 4th floor. The researcher, however, is over-burdened – carrying books, boxes and a coffee. During the brief elevator ride the researcher asks if you’d mind holding onto their coffee while they record your name. You do. Inside the lab you’re asked to make a number of judgements regarding a person you’ve read about in a story. Williams and Bargh, the folks who conducted this research, found that if participants were asked to mind a hot coffee they rated the target person more highly on ‘warm’ personality dimensions (like, friendliness, trustworthiness and helpfulness); but if participants were asked to mind an iced coffee then participants rated the target person less positively on the same traits. No difference was found on ‘cold’ traits (like estimated competence). Williams and Bargh conducted a second study in which they payment for participating was framed as either something for you, or a gift for someone else. If participants had briefly held a warm hot-pak they more frequently chose to accept payment in the form of a gift for someone else, and when they had held an ice-pak they accepted payment as something for themselves.

It seems that a little warmth can endear us to others. It’s no wonder then that in cloudy England a cup of tea is a cultural institution.  It’s no wonder that having a conversation over coffee is something we all do a few times a week. Snuggling under warm blankets, anyone? Perhaps it’s not the chicken in chicken soup that makes us feel good, that makes us – more than anything – appreciate the one who bought it…

 But there’s more.

Warmth may be enough to get us to focus on that which is similar to us, not on what is different. It may be enough to make us think we’re more like others, even when the object of our attention is highly distinct. Work by Steinmetz and Mussweiler in 2011 asked people in warm (25 – 27oc) and cool (8 - 12oc) environments (both in a café and in a lab) to compare themselves to someone who was either very physical strong, or ostensibly not strong. They found that in the warmer condition people believed themselves to be able to do more pushups, and to hold a litre of beer at arm’s length for a longer period of time, when comparing themselves to the strong person than when they were in the cool environment. Strength, itself, is kind of trivial – but it is a neat measure that is either true or not. A person can do 25 pushups, or they cannot. A person can hold a stein at arm’s length for 2 minutes, or they cannot. There is no reason why this wouldn’t extend when we make comparisons to others on how friendly, or empathetic, or charitable we think they are… I bet we’d even feel more attractive and desirable in the company of such people when we’re warm than when we’re cold.

 Not only does warmth make us like people more, it makes us think we’re more like others than we might actually be. Though neither study tested for confounds that thinking we’re like others is because we like them more (or vice versa).

 We also know (thanks to Ijzerman and Semin, a couple of Dutch researchers) that we perceive the environment as being warmer when someone is in close proximity to us. We also perceive the environment as warmer when we’re made aware of similarities between ourselves and others – and the flipside holds true – when we’re made aware of difference between ourselves and others we perceive the environment as considerably cooler. We all know this to be intuitively true… we’ve all felt the moment when someone made a faux pas, something which we wished to distance ourselves from, and we’ve felt the temperature in the room drop, we’ve enduring a frosty silence, received the cold shoulder. In each case we have known acutely the differences between ourselves and someone else, certainly more so than the things that we would know to be similar.

 So warmth can endear us to others, to make us feel more similar to others; people we like seem to raise our ambient temperature, and people with whom we are made to feel different lower the temperature. Warmth can make us consider people as more friendly, helpful and trustworthy… so much so it seem that, according to research group led by Kang in 2010, it is possible that we actually act on such impressions. After exposing participants to hot- and cold-paks and allowing them to invest money in a trust game people tended to invest more after holding the hot-pak and less after holding the cold-pak.

 Is Sunshine Enough? I don’t think so. But I don’t lament its loss. Warmth is where it’s at. Warmth is what we need. Warmth is a gift we give and receive, and something we self-generate. Warmth, I’ll be damned, is enough. Clearly the Sun is a great source of warmth, but it’s how we interact with the Sun’s warmth and with others that appears more important. Sunshine may not directly contribute to human wellbeing (and may even predict greater danger) but no more so than the strengths of our belief that the Sun is what we love. For every Sun-lover out there there’s an equally contented stranger enjoying a stroll in the rain…. And you can bet that the first thing the stranger in the rain does when they get home is enjoy a warm shower and a hot cup of coffee.



Steinmetz, J., & Mussweiler, T. (2011). Breaking the ice: How physical warmth shapes social comparison consequences Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47 (5), 1025-1028 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.03.022

Ikegaya, H., & Suganami, H. (2008). Correlation between Climate and Crime in Eastern Tokyo Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice/La Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice pénale, 50 (2), 225-238 DOI: 10.3138/cjccj.50.2.225 Williams, L., & Bargh, J. (2008). Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth Science, 322 (5901), 606-607 DOI: 10.1126/science.1162548

Kang, Y., Williams, L., Clark, M., Gray, J., & Bargh, J. (2010). Physical temperature effects on trust behavior: the role of insula Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 6 (4), 507-515 DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsq077

IJzerman, H., & Semin, G. (2010). Temperature perceptions as a ground for social proximity Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 (6), 867-873 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.07.015

Denissen, J., Butalid, L., Penke, L., & van Aken, M. (2008). The effects of weather on daily mood: A multilevel approach. Emotion, 8 (5), 662-667 DOI: 10.1037/a0013497

IJzerman, H., & Semin, G. (2009). The Thermometer of Social Relations: Mapping Social Proximity on Temperature Psychological Science, 20 (10), 1214-1220 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02434.x

 Sun Image Ref:


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Blog Comments

Guest Comment

The author abviously doesn't live in Seattle. :)


Guest Comment

I was shocked seeing the table results. Is it really true? So many people are murdered influenced by sunshine weather?

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