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RDC Blog

January 2012

Welcome to the Research Design Connections blog, started in 2007. Recent blog entries are available here. Earlier blog entries (one for every working day since the beginning of May, 2007) are available to subscribers.

This is a forum to discuss recent research of interest to designers. To comment on a blog entry, please send an e-mail message to sallyaugustin@researchdesignconnections.com.

October 2014

Environmental psychologists have been saying for years that too much transparency (literally) in workplaces and elsewhere can create difficult situations. Ethan Bernstein, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Harvard, has reached similar conclusions after synthesizing many years of research done by himself and others. He describes the transparency paradox: “For all that transparency does to drive out wasteful practices and promote collaboration and shared learning, too much of it can trigger distortions of fact and counterproductive inhibitions. Unrehearsed, experimental behaviors sometimes cease altogether. Wide-open workspaces and copious real-time data on how individuals spend their time can leave employees feeling exposed and vulnerable. Being observed changes their conduct. They start going to great lengths to keep what they’re doing under wraps, even if they have nothing bad to hide. If executives pick up on signs of covert activity, they instinctively start to monitor employee behavior even more intensely. And that just aggravates the problem.”  Bernstein supports “boundaries around individual teams—zones of attention—to avoid exposing every little action to the scrutiny of a crowd.”

Ethan Bernstein.  2014.  “The Transparency Trap.”  Harvard Business Review, http://hbr.org/2014/10/the-transparency-trap/ar/1.

October 2014

The American Society of Anesthesiologists has something they’d like you to know about music.  In a press release publicizing a study presented at the 2014 annual meeting they report that “Patients undergoing elective hysterectomies who listened to jazz music during their recovery experienced significantly lower heart rates. . . . But the research also found that silence is golden. Patients who wore noise-cancelling headphones also had lower heart rates, as well as less pain.”

“Take Note:  Study Shows Jazz and Silence Help Reduce Heart Rate After Surgery.”  2014. Press release, American Society of Anesthesiologists, http://www.newswise.com.

October 2014

Living near a major road doesn’t seem to be good for women.  According to Hart and her colleagues “Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a major source of mortality and is the first manifestation of heart disease for the majority of cases. Thus, there is a definite need to identify risk factors for SCD that can be modified on the population level. Exposure to traffic, measured by residential roadway proximity, has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. . . . women living within 50 meters of a major roadway had an elevated risk of SCD. . . . Among this sample of middle-aged and older women, roadway proximity was associated with an elevated and statistically significant risks of SCD and fatal CHD [coronary heart disease].”

Jaime Hart, Stephanie Chiuve, Francine Laden, and Christine Albert.  “Roadway Proximity and Rick of Suggen Cardiac Death in Women.”  Circulation, in press.

October 2014

A new study confirms that, as environmental psychologists learned long ago, we become friendly with people we interact with regularly because we all share some element of our environment, such as a walkway to our front doors, and the resulting friendships enhance our well being.  Easterbrook and Vignoles have learned that among people living in “shared student accommodation,” “Respondents living in flats with design features that encouraged the use of communal areas – a shared common area and an absence of ensuite toilets – reported unintentionally meeting their flatmates more frequently within their flats. This in turn predicted the initial strength of their interpersonal bonds with their flatmates, which in turn positively predicted their well-being. These effects were maintained throughout the 10-week study.”

Matthew Easterbrook and Vivian Vignoles.  “When Friendship Formation Goes Down the Toilet:  Design Features of Shared Accommodation Influence Interpersonal Bonds and Well-Being.”  British Journal of Social Psychology, in press.

October 2014

Ackerman has written a thoughtful book about how humans are changing our world on a macro-scale.  The core message of her text is succinctly stated in her conclusion: “We [Humans] can survive our rude infancy and grow into responsible, caring adults—without losing our innocence, playfulness, or sense of wonder.  But first we need to see ourselves from different angles, in many mirrors, as a very young species, both blessed and cursed by our prowess.  Instead of ignoring or plundering nature, we need to refine our natural place in it.”

Diane Ackerman.  2014.  The Human Age:  The World Shaped by Us.  W.W. Norton and Company:  New York.

October 2014

Natural sounds effectively support recovery from stressful events, making them good choices for the soundscapes of workplaces and other spaces where users will inevitably experience tension—particularly if it’s difficult to incorporate stress-reducing images into these environments. Benfield and his team report that “Visual exposure to natural scenes can aid in recovery from stress, attentional fatigue, and physical ailments including surgery and sickness. . . . The current study extends prior work on the benefit of natural visual scenes to the domain of natural auditory exposure. [People] were exposed to an unsettling video and reliably reported worsened affective state [mood]. . . . Participants were then randomly assigned to either a natural sounds condition or to a comparison condition that was natural sounds intermingled with anthropogenic sounds (human voices or motorized vehicles). Participants exposed to a brief period [3 minutes] of natural sounds following the video showed greater mood recovery . . . than did those exposed to the same stimuli [nature sounds] also containing human-caused sounds (voices or motorized vehicles). Thus natural soundscapes can provide restorative benefits independent of those produced by visual stimuli.”  The natural sounds tested were the sounds of birds singing and gently rustling leaves.

Jacob Benfield, B. Taff, Peter Newman, and Joshua Smyth.  2014. “Natural Sound Facilitates Mood Recovery.”  Ecopsychology, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 183-188.

October 2014

Korpela and his team investigated restorative experiences at work.  They report that “Increasing evidence shows that outdoor natural environments are more efficient in producing restoration than outdoor built environments. Anecdotal evidence shows that window views to natural elements buffer the negative impact of job stress on intention to quit; the more natural elements, the less the negative impact of job stress on turnover intentions. A [physiological study] has indicated that people are less nervous or anxious when looking at the window view to nature compared with the window view to the city or no window view. Also the amount of outdoor nature contact during breaks at work seems to be associated with less perceived stress and better self-rated health. Research has showed that plants in the office room seem to enhance the solution of creative tasks, but deteriorate simple, proofreading or sorting tasks which require continuous concentration to the task.”

Kalevi Korpela, Jessica De Bloom, and Ulla Kinnunen.  “From Restorative Environments to Restoration in Work.”  Intelligent Buildings International, in press.

October 2014

Gjersoe and her team have learned that our national culture influences how we respond to objects.  More specifically, “individualistic cultures place a greater value on objects associated with unique persons [than collectivist ones].”  This finding has repercussions for design of spaces in general and the allocation of space to individuals, as well as the resolution of other design-related issues.

Nathalia Gjersoe, George Newman, Vladimir Chituc, and Bruce Hood.  2014.  “Individualism and the Extended-Self:  Cross-Cultural Differences in the Valuation of Authentic Objects.”  PLoS ONE, vol. 9, no. 3, http://www.plospne.org.

September 2014

Benden and his colleagues investigated how providing students with stand-biased desks (taller desks equipped with footrests for one foot while students stand and tall-ish stools) instead of conventional school desks influenced experiences at school. Students with the stand-biased desk were free to sit or stand, as they wished. The researchers learned that “activity-permissive classrooms do not cause harm to [elementary-school age] students; result in increased energy expenditure that may combat obesity among those in the highest risk categories; and improve behavioral engagement. . . . this should serve as an incentive for schools to invest in altering their standard for classroom furniture to stand-biased modifications.”

Mark Benden, Hongwei Zhao, Christina Jeffrey, Monica Wendel, and Jamilla Blake.  2014.  “The Evaluation of the Impact of a Stand-Biased Desk on Energy Expenditure and Physical Activity for Elementary School Students.”  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 11, no. 9, pp. 9361-9375.