When you pick up an object, you might think that you are manipulating it, but in a sense, it is also manipulating you. Through a series of six psychological experiments, Joshua Ackerman from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that the properties that we feel through touch – texture, hardness, weight – can all influence the way we think.
Weight is linked to importance, so that people carrying heavy objects deem interview candidates as more serious and social problems as more pressing. Texture is linked to difficulty and harshness. Touching rough sandpaper makes social interactions seem more adversarial, while smooth wood makes them seem friendlier. Finally, hardness is associated with rigidity and stability. When sitting on a hard chair, negotiators take tougher stances but if they sit on a soft one instead, they become more flexible.
These influences are not trivial – they can sway how people react in important ways, including how much money they part with, how cooperative they are with strangers, or how they judge an interview candidate.
Many plants depend so heavily on visits from bees that they go to great lengths to attract them, using brightly coloured flowers baited with sweet nectar. But some of their tricks are much subtler and are designed not to attract six-legged visitors, but to make their stay more convenient.
The majority of flowering plants have evolved special conical cells that line the surface of their petals and are found nowhere else. These cells provide the flower with a rougher texture that is indistinguishable to human fingers, but that provide just enough purchase for the claws of landing insects. Heather Whitney from the University of Cambridge found that these conical cells turn the petal into a more conducive landing pad, and bees can tell if a petal has these bonus features or not by the way it reflects light.
About 80% of flowering plants possess these conical cells, but some develop mutations that do away with them. The snapdragon can develop a fault in the MIXTA gene, which prevents petal cells from developing into a conical shape. The lack of cones means that more white light reflects from the flowers’ surface, giving them a paler pink colour and making them stand out from the rich magenta of their peers. Honeybees tend to ignore these paler flowers, even though they smell the same as the normal variety.