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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.

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Newman and colleagues investigated how virtual reality realism influences potentially restorative VR experiences.  They determined that “High realism VR environments provided a greater sense of presence and restoration.  Realism is important, particularly for environmental restoration research. . . . Two studies were conducted to examine how realism of environmental presentations impact affective responses and participant perceptions. . . . . Study One showed that experiences of VR presentations fell between real and video presentations. Study Two found that more realistic VR environments evoked more positive affective and serenity responses, as well as a greater sense of presence. In both studies, participants stressed the importance of naturalistic interaction, sensory immersion, and graphical realism in the experiences. . . .  The level of realism that can be attained with VR does impact affective responses and perceptions.”

M Newman, B. Gatersleben, K. Wyles, and E. Ratcliffe.  “The Use of Virtual Reality in Environment Experiences and the Importance of Realism.” Journal of Environmental Psychology.  101733, in press, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2021.101733

Estes and Streicher’s work makes it clear that retail design and planning should support use of certain sorts of shopping carts.  The research duo reports that “Prior research on ergonomics indicates that standard shopping carts, which are pushed via a horizontal handlebar, are likely to activate arm extensor muscles. Prior research on arm muscle activation, in turn, suggests that arm extensor activation may elicit less purchasing than arm flexor activation. . . . The authors predicted that shopping carts with parallel handles (i.e., like a wheelbarrow or ‘walker’) would instead activate the flexor muscles and thus increase purchasing. . . . In a field experiment, parallel-handle shopping carts significantly and substantially increased sales across a broad range of categories, including both vice and virtue products. Finally, in a simulated shopping experiment, parallel handles increased purchasing and spending beyond both horizontal and vertical handles. These results were not attributable to the novelty of the shopping cart itself, participants’ mood, or purely ergonomic factors.”

Zachary Estes and Mathias Streicher.  “Getting a Handle on Sales:  Shopping Carts Affect Purchasing by Activating Arm Muscles.”  Journal of Marketing, in press, https://doi.org/10.1177/00222429211061367

Sunder shares thought-provoking insights that will be valuable to any one designing patient rooms, particularly semi-private ones.  As sales materials on the book’s Amazon site report, “The patient room is the smallest cell of the hospital organism. Its layout determines the structure of the ward and is therefore a decisive factor for the entire building.  Many requirements have to be met. The patient's sense of well-being can be positively influenced by the design: homely materials, an attractive view and sufficient privacy are important objectives. Equally important are the working conditions for the staff, especially short distances and an efficient care routine. Finally, even the risk of infection can be reduced by a conscientiously planned room layout.  This publication provides a systematic overview of the design task patient room and shows exemplary solutions: both typologically and in selected case studies.”

Wolfgang Sunder. 2020.  The Patient Room:  Planning, Design and Layout. Birkhauser, Basel.

Faraji-Rad and Lee’s study helps explain some choices of objects and environments.  They determined that  “Merely anticipating a future sad event motivates consumers to ‘accumulate happiness’ in order to enhance their ability to cope with the anticipated sadness later—a phenomenon that we call banking happiness.  To bank happiness, consumers not only choose positive stimuli over non-positive stimuli when given the choice. . .  Consumers bank happiness because of the lay theory that happiness is a resource that can be accumulated (i.e., banked) and consumed later.  . . .  believing that happiness is bankable increases consumers’ engagement with positive stimuli when anticipating sadness, possibly boosting the hedonic [pleasure-related] utility [value] consumers obtain from the positive stimuli and helping them to build a stronger buffer against the negative stimuli later.”

Ali Faraji-Rad and Leonard Lee.  “Banking Happiness.”  Journal of Consumer Research, in press, ucab066, https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucab066

Goldring and Bolger investigated the implications of experiencing daily stressors, which can arise from conditions in physical environments.  They report that “Prior research shows that daily stressors lead to greater psychological distress. A separate body of research links daily stressors to physical symptoms such as backaches and stomach problems. We integrate these literatures by positing an interconnected causal system, whereby stressors lead to psychological distress which, in turn, leads to physical symptoms. Our integrated approach also includes causal effects in the opposing directions: Psychological distress can increase physical symptoms and physical symptoms can increase psychological distress. Put simply, causal effects are bidirectional. . . . some people are as much as four times as reactive as the average person, some people are not reactive at all, and other people are reactive in reverse directions (e.g., distress leads to fewer physical symptoms).”

Megan Goldring and Niall Bolger. 2021.  “Physical Effects of Daily Stressors Are Psychologically Mediated, Heterogeneous, and Bidirectional.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 121, no. 3, pp. 722-746, https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000396

Binter and colleagues studied links between urban design and child development.  They report that they “investigated the association between early-life urban environment and cognitive and motor function in children. We used data from 5403 mother–child pairs from four population-based birth-cohorts (UK, France, Spain, and Greece). . . . Higher greenness exposure within 300 m during pregnancy was associated with higher verbal abilities. . . . Higher connectivity density within 100 m and land use diversity during pregnancy were related to lower verbal abilities. Childhood exposure to PM2.5 mediated 74% of the association between greenness during childhood and verbal abilities. Higher exposure to PM2.5 during pregnancy was related to lower fine motor function. . . .  This study suggests that built environment, greenness, and air pollution may impact child cognitive and motor function at five years old. This study adds evidence that well-designed urban planning may benefit children’s cognitive and motor development.”

Anne-Claire Binter and 18 others. 2022.   “Urban Environment and Cognitive and Motor Function in Children from Four European Birth Cohorts.”  Environment International, vol. 158, 106933, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2021.106933

Yang and colleagues investigated the remote work experiences of Microsoft employees.  They report that “The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused a rapid shift to full-time remote work for many information workers. Viewing this shift as a natural experiment in which some workers were already working remotely before the pandemic enables us to separate the effects of firm-wide remote work from other pandemic-related confounding factors. Here, we use rich data on the emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls and workweek hours of 61,182 US Microsoft employees over the first six months of 2020 to estimate the causal effects of firm-wide remote work on collaboration and communication. Our results show that firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts. Furthermore, there was a decrease in synchronous communication and an increase in asynchronous communication. Together, these effects may make it harder for employees to acquire and share new information across the network.”

Longqi Yang, David Holtz, Sonia Jaffe, Siddharth Suri, Shilpi Sinha, Jeffrey Weston, Connor Joyce, Neha Shah, Kevin Sherman, Brent Hecht, and Jaime Teevan.  2021.  “The Effects of Remote Work on Collaboration Among Information Workers.”  Nature Human Behaviour, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-021-01196-4#change-history

Boland and colleagues studied conversations during Zoom meetings.  They learned that “Small, variable transmission delays over Zoom disrupt the typical rhythm of conversation, leading to delays in turn initiation. This study compared local and remote (Zoom) turn transition times. . . . We consider the possibility that electronic transmission delays disrupt neural oscillators that normally synchronize on syllable rate, at around, 150–300 ms per cycle . . . and enable interlocutors to effortlessly and precisely time the initiation of their turns.”

Julie Boland, Pedro Fonseca, Ilana Mermelstein, and Myles Williamson.  “Zoom Disrupts the Rhythm of Conversation.”  Journal of Experimental Psychology:  General, in press, https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0001150

Researchers have investigated why we get lost in places that are similar to other areas we’re familiar with.  Zheng lead a team that found that “the brain may treat similar environments as if they are even more different than a pair of environments that have nothing in common. The concept is known to brain scientists as ‘repulsion.’ . . .  Ekstrom points to a visit to a restaurant. There are many aspects about dining out that will always be the same – being seated, ordering food and waiting for the meal. But dinner with a romantic partner would come with key differences than, say, a dinner with a co-worker. ‘That's the challenge for the brain: A lot of stuff in our daily life is similar, so there's no reason to use our limited resources to relearn very similar experiences,’ Ekstrom said. ‘But at the same time, there are things in our everyday life that we have to treat as different in order to be able to learn.’” This study is published in Nature Communications.

“Ever Been Lost in the Grocery Store?  Researchers are Closer to Knowing Why It Happens.”  2021.  Press release, The University of Arizona, https://news.arizona.edu/story/ever-been-lost-grocery-store-researchers-...

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