Imagining oneself in a wintry setting or just looking at the images can help increase cognitive control, reveal researchers.
Cognitive control is the ability to deliberately inhibit responses or make choices that maximize the long-term best interests of the individual. For example, when a person is very hungry and sees a sandwich but does not eat it, he/she is exhibiting cognitive control.
"Metaphorical phrases like 'coldly calculating', 'heated response' and 'cool-headed' actually have some scientific validity, which we demonstrate in our study," said lead researcher Idit Shalev from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel.
"Previous research focused on the actual effect of temperature on the psychological phenomenon known as 'cognitive control'," Shalev said.
"But this is the first time we were able to measure the effects of perceived temperature," Shalev added.
In one of the experiments conducted for the study, 28 students were shown images of winter scenery, a temperature-neutral concrete street and a sunny landscape, and told to picture themselves in those settings.
The researchers then measured how the participants performed on an "anti-saccade task", an established cognitive control measure which requires looking in the direction opposite to which an object is moving.
"The result indicated that those viewing the cold landscape did better and that even without a physical trigger, cognitive control can be activated through conceptual processes alone," Shalev said.
The researchers said there is a possible explanation for the relation of temperature and cognitive control with social proximity.
"While signals of warmth induce a relaxed attitude, cool signals trigger alertness and a possible need for greater cognitive control," Shalev explained.