We use physical terms literally, but also metaphorically. For example, we say a boss (who may work several floors below) is “above” a worker. We call some people warm, and others cold; we feel distant from some, but close to others. Lawrence Williams has studied the interplay of these physical sensations and the underlying emotional landscape. His training is in psychology, where these ideas are of interest for their own sake. Now he is in the Leeds School of Business, where we may suppose the interest is in codifying physical things that might modify consumer behavior in a way favorable to the seller. His work received international attention with the publication in 2008 of a paper in Science titled: Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth, by Williams and his mentor, JA Bargh. We don’t want to ruin the surprise by telling you what they did or what they found, but the paper is available on line for the curious, and is very easy to read for the non-specialist. Another 2008 paper by the same prolific pair is called: Keeping One’s Distance—The influence of spatial distance cues on affect and evaluation. To give you a flavor of its argument, it begins “ Can the relative placement of salt and pepper shakers on one’s table influence feelings of emotional attachment to one’s dinner companion?” What do you think? And what does this tell us about our ideas of ourselves as strivers towards an Aristotelian ideal of human perfectibility—are we really a mass of tangled conditioned reflexes? Or maybe most of life is lived in metaphors: we can’t take in all we experience (if we try we may become like Dr. Nash in A Beautiful Mind) so we parse, we make gestalts, we create and activate mental schemas. Then when we experience something like unexpected physical warmth, we may activate the whole warmth complex: Warm hands, warm hearts, warm welcomes, warm thoughts…
Then again, another interest of Dr. Williams: most of us hate the idea of violence, especially being ourselves involved in it. So why are so many of us addicted to violent computer games, movies, comics? Is this in some way a good thing?
[This is by JJC, who may or may not understand what Dr. W. is really doing, so come and find out.]
Lawrence Williams, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Marketing, at the Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado at Boulder. He is interested in how nonconscious and automatic processes influence consumer behavior. He received his A.B. from Harvard University in Psychology in2002, magna cum laude; his M.Phil. and, in 2008, his PhD from Yale, also in psychology. In 2007 Science published an interesting and revealing profile of him, which you can read online.
His research interests involve understanding the nonconscious impact of consumers' surroundings on their emotions, judgments, decisions, and their ability to exercise self-control. His work also examines the paradoxical enjoyment of forms of entertainment that are horrifying, violent, and/or feature humiliation, in an attempt to better understand why and how consumers derive pleasure from aversive emotional experiences.
Dr. Williams studies the ways in which subtle cues in the environment influence judgments, decisions, and behaviors without people's awareness. His research program features three lines. In the first line, Dr. Williams examines the effects of people's experiences with fundamental aspects of the physical world (e.g., the temperature of objects or the space between objects) on people's subsequent thoughts and actions. These effects are the result of the associations between physical and psychological concepts people develop early in life. The second line of his research program examines factors that contribute to people's paradoxical enjoyment of violent, fear-inducing, and/or socially awkward forms of entertainment. His third line of research examines how subtle cues, presented outside of awareness, can prompt people to exercise more self-control. Taken together, these three lines of research provide a clearer profile of nonconscious consumer behavior.