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Brooks and team’s study indicates how important it is to design spaces so that they support rituals.  The researchers found that “From public speaking to first dates, people frequently experience performance anxiety. And when experienced immediately before or during performance, anxiety harms performance. Across a series of experiments, we explore the efficacy of a common strategy that people employ to cope with performance-induced anxiety: rituals. We define a ritual as a predefined sequence of symbolic actions often characterized by formality and repetition that lack direct instrumental purpose. Using different instantiations of rituals and measures of anxiety (both physiological and self-report), we find that enacting rituals improves performance in public and private performance domains by decreasing anxiety.”

Alison Brooks, Julianna Schroeder, Jane Risen, Francesca Gino, Adam Galinsky, Michael Norton, and Maurice Schweitzer.  2016.  “Don’t Stop Believing:  Rituals Improve Performance by Decreasing Anxiety.”  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, vol. 137, pp. 71-85.

Lathia and colleagues have identified ties between physical activity and happiness.  As they report, “Although exercise has also been linked to psychological health (e.g., happiness), little research has examined physical activity more broadly, taking into account non-exercise activity as well as exercise. We examined the relationship between physical activity (measured broadly) and happiness using a smartphone application. .  . . . The findings reveal that individuals who are more physically active are happier. Further, individuals are happier in the moments when they are more physically active. These results emerged when assessing activity subjectively, via self-report, or objectively, via participants' smartphone accelerometers. Overall, this research suggests that not only exercise but also non-exercise physical activity is related to happiness.”  Data were collected from “over ten thousand participants.”  Information on physical activity was gathered using accelerometers on participants’ phones.

Neal Lathia, Gillian Sandstrom, Cecilia Mascolo, and Peter Rentfrow.  2017.  “Happier People Live More Active Lives:  Using Smartphones to Link Happiness and Physical Activity.”  PLoS ONE, vol. 12, no. 1, e0160589.

Franco and his team have learned that children and adults categorize the emotional effects of music in the same ways.  This finding is important because children do not necessarily respond to sensory stimuli as adults do.  The researchers found that “novel child-directed music was presented in three conditions: instrumental, vocal-only, and song (instrumental plus vocals) to 3- to 6-year-olds previously screened for language development. . . . children chose a face expressing the emotion matching each musical track. All performance conditions comprised ‘happy’ (major mode/fast tempo) and ‘sad’ (minor mode/ slow tempo) tracks. Nonsense syllables rather than words were used in the vocals in order to avoid the influence of lyrics on children’s decisions. The results showed that even the younger children were able to correctly identify the intended emotion in music . . . and recognition appeared facilitated in the instrumental condition. . . . . preschoolers can reliably recognise ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ emotion in music from the age of 4 years, and that even 3-year-olds succeed with ‘happy’ tracks.”

Fabia Franco, Marcia Chew, and Joel Swaine.  2017. “Preschoolers Attribution of Affect to Music:  A Comparison Between Vocal and Instrumental Performance.” Psychology of Music, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 131-149.

Looking at pictures that stir strong emotions influences how human brains work.  So, pictures that pack an emotional wallop, whether it’s positive or negative, need to be used with caution.  Quoting Sutherland and his team: “Emotionally arousing stimuli are attention grabbing and highly memorable, and they also have influences on attention and memory that continue after the removal of the emotional stimulus. This is thought to occur due to changes in cognition that allow one to more easily adapt to harmful or threatening circumstances, or to engage in reward-seeking activity. . . . Here we corroborate that finding and report evidence that positive and negative arousing images impair top-down attention. Yet these effects were limited to animal stimuli and not observed with object stimuli [this means that the effects on thinking were found when people were asked to look at pictures of animals after they had looked at those emotion-generating images]. . . . Emotions change how one sees the world, and here we demonstrate that brief exposure to an emotionally arousing stimulus changes how bottom-up and top-down influences interact during perception. . . . For one to understand why people attend to some things and ignore others, a person’s emotional state should be considered.”

Matthew Sutherland, Douglas McQuiggan, Jennifer Ryan, and Mara Mather.  “Perceptual Salience Does Not Influence Emotional Arousal’s Impairing Effects on Top-Down Attention.”  Emotion, in press.

Researchers have found that people’s sense of balance is impaired when they talk on cell phones – another reason to make sure circulation spaces, plazas, and the like, are free of trip hazards, etc.  A study-related press release reports that “cell phone texting and talking can have a negative effect on one’s balance during everyday activities. . . . cell phone texting during exercise significantly impacts postural stability – by 45 percent — when compared to no cell phone use. The investigation also revealed that talking on a cell phone while exercising reduces postural stability by 19 percent. Listening to music on a cell phone, on the other hand, has no notable impact on postural stability during exercise, the study showed.”

“Your Cell Phone Could Curb the Intensity of Your Workout.”  2017.  Press release, Hiram College,

Bubic and colleagues found that knowing the name of a painting influences responses to it. Details on their project: “The present study . . . explore[d] the perception of 12 selected abstract and figural Wassily Kandinsky paintings among two groups of participants, one familiarized with the titles prior to viewing the artworks and another unfamiliar with the paintings’ titles. . . . participants who knew the titles prior to viewing the artworks liked both figural and abstract paintings more compared with those unfamiliar with the title. This finding is in accordance with previous studies indicating that providing contextual information may influence viewers’ liking of presented artworks.”  The researchers also report that participants in their study generally preferred “figural over abstract paintings. . . . they reported liking and understanding these paintings better as well as being more emotionally moved by them.”

Andreja Bubic, Ana Susac, and Marijan Palmovic.  “Observing Individuals Viewing Art:  The Effects of Titles on Viewers’ Eye-Movement Profiles.”  Empirical Studies of the Arts, in press.

Verplanken and colleagues’ research indicates that we’re more likely to successfully change habits when attempts at the desired modifications are paired with other changes in our lives, such as moving to a new home.  A press release for the upcoming Society of Personality and Social Psychology conference, where Verplanken will discuss his work, reports that this outcome is called the “discontinuity effect.”

“Thinking of Changing Your Behavior in 2017?  Try Moving First.”  2017.  Press release, Society for Personality and Social Psychology,

Myerson and Privett share insights regarding workplace design that they garnered while studying extreme workplaces, such as academic libraries, theatres, air traffic control centers, and newsrooms.  Particular attention is devoted to psychological comfort in these environments.  This text may help readers resolve workplace design challenges.

Jeremy Myerson and Imogen Privett. 2015.   Life of Work:  What Office Design Can Learn from the World Around Us.  Black Dog Publishing: London, UK.

Sokolova and Krishna learned that when people are being asked to make a selection, how that task is described makes a difference.  Their findings, which can be applied by anyone asking others to make choices, are straightforward: “People can make decisions by choosing or by rejecting alternatives. This research shows that changing a task from choice to rejection makes people more likely to rely on deliberative processing, what we label the task-type effect. . . . We show that changing a task from choice to rejection makes people express more consistent preferences between safe and risky options . . . . switching a task from choice to rejection increases the quality of consideration sets in the context of hotel reviews . . . and leads to more rational decisions in the context of cell phone plan selection.”

Tatiana Sokolova and Aradhna Krishna.  2016.  “Take It Or Leave It:  How Choosing Versus Rejecting Alternatives Affects Information Processing.”  Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 614-635.

Parrott effectively reviews, in the chapter available free at the web address noted below, the repercussions of people being envious in workplaces.  As he details, “there [are] a multitude of . . . ways that a person can be perceived as enjoying advantages. Offices can be bigger or brighter and can have better windows or nicer furnishings. . . . envy can be even more intense when directed horizontally within organizational levels than it is when directed from lower to higher levels. . . . . In the context of organizations, the danger of envy is that it may hurt group performance more than it helps. A recent study of envy in business settings in a variety of Norwegian organizations provided evidence that envy was negatively related to group performance (Thompson, Glasø, & Martinsen, 2015). Envy was negatively correlated with job satisfaction, group cohesion, group performance, and with providing assistance and cooperation to others in the organization. Envy was found to damage relationships within work-groups and to direct energy away from group activities.”

W. Parrott.  2016.  “Being Envied in Organizations.”  In Richard Smith, Ugo Merlone, and Michelle Duffy (eds.), Envy at Work and in Organizations, Oxford University Press, available at


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