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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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Nave, Minxha, Kosinski, Greenberg, Rentfrow, and Stillwell conducted research linking opinions about particular types of music and personality—it’s interesting to consider potential applications of their findings beyond music.  The investigators found that “high-openness people . . . liked mostly sophisticated music. We define this as music that is inspiring, complex and dynamic. It comprises mostly classical, operatic, world and jazz pieces. The high-openness people, on the other hand, disliked . . . mellow music, which is defined as romantic, relaxing and slow, and comprises soft rock, R&B, and adult contemporary musical pieces. High-openness people also disliked music that we defined as contemporary, which is electric, not sad, and comprises genres such as rap, electronic dance music, Latin and Europop pieces. Extroverts, on the other hand, liked music that we called unpretentious. This represents music that is uncomplicated, relaxing and acoustic. It comprises country, folk and singer/songwriter pieces.”  Some definitions of the personality dimensions used by researchers: “people who are high in openness have more intellectual curiosity, creativity and prefer novelty and variety. . . . extroverts have more energy, assertiveness, sociability [than introverts], and they tend to seek stimulus in the company of others.”

“From Bach to Rock:  How Music Preferences Predict Behavior.”  2018.  Knowledge@Wharton,

People developing or using sound masking systems will be intrigued by Marsh and team’s research related to overheard conversations.  The Marsh-lead group determined that “Overhearing a telephone conversation—whereby only one of the two speakers is heard—is subjectively more annoying and objectively more distracting than overhearing a full conversation. The present study sought to determine whether this “halfalogue” effect is attributable to unexpected offsets and onsets within the background speech (acoustic unexpectedness) or to the tendency to predict the unheard part of the conversation (semantic [un]predictability).” In experiments conducted “The halfalogue effect was only present for the meaningful speech condition. . . . The halfalogue effect is thus attributable to the semantic (un)predictability, not the acoustic unexpectedness, of background telephone conversation.”

John Marsh, Robert Ljung, Helena Jahncke, Douglas MacCutcheon, Florian Pausch, Linden Ball, and Francois Vachon. 2018.  “Why Are Background Telephone Conversations Distracting?” Journal of Experimental Psychology:  Applied, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 222-235,

Leder and team’s research provides nuanced insights into human beings’ responses to symmetry. The investigators learned that when they had people with an expertise related to art (artists and art historians) and people without a background in art view mandala-like designs that were symmetrical or not, and simple or complex that  “non-art experts evaluated the symmetrical–complex stimuli as most beautiful, followed in descending order by symmetrical–simple, asymmetrical–complex, and asymmetrical–simple stimuli. This was an expected pattern of responses that has been previously shown to be largely stable that is for non-art expert participants. What was surprising, however, was that both groups of experts showed a contrasting, even reversed, pattern of responses: Unlike the non-art experts who found symmetrical and complex stimuli to be most beautiful, the art experts found asymmetrical and simple stimuli to be most beautiful.”  

Helmut Leder, Pablo Tinio, David Brieber, Tonio Kroner, Thomas Jacobsen, and Raphael Rosenberg. “Symmetry Is Not a Universal Law of Beauty.”  Empirical Studies of the Arts, DOI:  10.1177/0276237418777941

Mason. Zee, Grimaldi, Reid, and Malkani’s research confirms that being in a space that has much light in it at night can be bad for our health.  Their findings indicate the value of black out-type curtains at night, particularly in urban areas, and shielding patients in hospitals from nighttime light, for example.  The Mason-lead team determined that “nighttime light exposure during sleep may affect metabolic function. . . . ‘a single night of light exposure during sleep acutely impacts measures of insulin resistance,’ said lead author . . . Mason. . . . ‘Light exposure overnight during sleep has been shown to disrupt sleep, but these data indicate that it may also have the potential to influence metabolism.’”  During the data collection period participants were assigned randomly to group “Dark-Dark (DD) or Dark-Light (DL). . . .The DL group . . . slept in the dark < 3 lux on Night 1 and slept in overhead room light of 100 lux on Night 2, while the DD group . . . slept in the dark <3 lux on both Nights 1 and 2.” Insulin resistance relates to the “ability of cells to respond to insulin action transporting glucose out of the bloodstream and [impairment] precedes the development of type 2 diabetes.” Study findings were presented at the 2018 meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies on June 4.

“Light Exposure During Sleep May Increase Insulin Resistance.”  2018. Press release, American Academy of Sleep Medicine,

A research team lead by Suarez has found that there’s a physiological reason for that gut feeling you have about where to find more of some food you’ve enjoyed eating (in other words, where to find that bakery that sells your favorite cupcakes). Experiments with rats have shown that information transmitted from our GI (gastrointestinal) track to our brains via the vagus nerve is responsible for our powerful food location-related memories.  Designers familiar with this link may find knowing about it useful when they’re interpreting design research data, for example. The investigators determined that the vagus nerve is “the primary means of neural communication between the gastrointestinal (GI) track and the brain. Vagally mediated GI signals activate the hippocampus (HPC), a brain region classically linked with memory function.”

Andrea Suarez, Ted Hsu, Clarissa Liu, Emily Noble, Alyssa Cortella, Emily Nakamoto, Joel Hahn, Guillaume de Lartigue, and Scott Kanosko.  2018.  “Gut Vagal Sensory Signaling Regulates Hippocampus Function Through Multi-Order Pathways.”  Nature Communications, vol. 9, article number 2181, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04639-1

Research completed by Petrilli, Chopra, Saint, Kuhn, Snyder, Jennings, and Carusoindicates that the clothing worn by healthcare professionals influences the impressions people form of them—it seems probable that what the Petrilli team learned applies to other professionals and also to impressions formed via workplace design.  A press release from the University of Michigan related to the Petrilli-lead team study reports that “Just over half of the 4,062 patients surveyed in the clinics and hospitals of 10 major medical centers said that what physicians wear is important to them — and more than one-third said it influences their satisfaction with their care.   . . . The study also asked patients to look at pictures of male and female physicians in seven different forms of attire, and to imagine them in both inpatient and outpatient clinical settings. For each photo, they rated the providers on how knowledgeable, trustworthy, caring and approachable the physician appeared, and how comfortable the attire made the patient feel.”  The options presented can be viewed at the web address noted below. In short, patients “prefer physicians in business attire and a white coat, or at least scrubs and a white coat.”  There was some variation in preferences based on situation and region; for example, “patients in the Northeast and Midwest were less insistent on white coats and formal attire — 38 percent and 40 percent preferred it in these regions, compared with 50 percent in the West and 51 percent in the South.”

Kara Gavin. 2018.  “What Doctors Wear Really Does Matter to Patients.”  Press release, University of Michigan,

Robert Soler’s presentation at Lightfair in Chicago (May 9) reviewed important findings from peer-reviewed research on circadian lighting.  The slides he used during his session are a useful reference and are available via the web address noted below. A particularly interesting section of Soler’s presentation related to the spatial distribution of light in a space.  As the notes available with Soler’s slides indicate, with interior circadian lighting, “During the Day time, light up your ‘sky’ . . . During the Night time, darken your “sky” and light your ‘fire’. . .Focus light on horizontal surfaces.”

Robert Soler. 2018.  “The Truth About Circadian Light 2.0.”  Lightfair, Chicago, May 9,

Oh, Lee, Kim, and Choo investigated how people are influenced by restaurant art.  The research team determined that  “the effect of attitudes toward an artwork on behavioral intentions is amplified when consumers’ art knowledge and levels of openness to experience are low. . .  how consumers perceive an artwork . . . is powerful in leading them to enter a store and have desirable consumption experiences. Retailers can also enhance consumer experience by selecting artworks based on target consumers’ level of art knowledge and openness to experience.”  So, opinions about art in view have a larger effect on behavior among people when they know relatively little about art and their openness to experience (described here: is low.

Hyunjoo Oh, Ha Lee, Jimin Kim, and Ho Choo.  “Effects of Art in Retail Environments.”  The International Review of Retail Distribution and Consumer Research, in press,

Kim and Kim learned more about how viewing art influences how we think.  They found that  “artistic cues lead participants to consider more abstract features than concrete features. . . . The activated abstract mindset trigged by artistic cues can provoke prosocial choice.” Prosocial thinking is focused on the welfare of other people.  More information on Kim and Kim’s findings:  “exposure to artistic (vs. nonartistic) cues, promotes an abstract (vs. concrete) mindset. . . . concrete thoughts [relate] to objective, observable, and subordinate information regarding the stimuli (e.g., color, composition, material, size, arrangement, and any physical traits of the stimulus) . . . abstract thoughts, [relate]  to less observable and superordinate information based on participants’ interpretations of the stimuli (e.g., emotion, usage, genre, general understanding, subjective judgment, or interpretation).”  During the data collection process, study participants viewed either Magritt’s painting titled “Personal Values” or Kandinsky’s painting titled “Yellow-Red-Blue.”  The “nonart” presented to study participants was an image of mundane objects similar to those in the Magritt painting.  They included, for example a blue glass cup as the painting does.

Dooie Kim and Sang-Hoon Kim. 2018.  “Art Beyond Art’s Sake:  The Influence of Artistic Cues on Prosocial Choice.”  Empirical Studies of the Arts, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 22-40, DOI:  10.1177/0276237416689663


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