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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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Schutte and her team have learned that time spent in virtual reality nature, compared to time spent in virtual reality urban spaces, can lead to better moods.  Also, people who experience virtual reality nature believe that they are more refreshed mentally (in other words, that they are more cognitively restored) after spending time there than the people placed in the virtual urban places.  The researchers immersed users in 360-degree natural or urban interactive virtual environments and learned that “Virtual reality experience of a natural environment compared to virtual reality experience of an urban environment resulted in higher levels of positive affect [mood] and a greater perception of restorativeness. . . . Virtual reality technology may have the potential to enhance well-being.”  Schutte and colleagues’ insights may be particularly useful when virtual reality experiences are being developed to optimize workplace performance, etc.

Nicola Schutte, Navjot Bhullar, Emma Stilinovic, and Katheryn Richardson.  2017.  “The Impact of Virtual Environments on Restorativeness and Affect.”  Ecopsychology, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-7.

Halali and colleagues learned that just thinking about temperature has a serious effect on how our brains work.  After the researchers got people thinking about temperature, by, for example, showing them various landscapes “associated with cool vs. warm temperatures [and asking them to imagine themselves in the location shown] . . . . cool compared to warm temperatures lead to improved performance on . . . an established cognitive control measure.”  Landscapes viewed were cold and snowy or warm and sunny, for example.  When people have less cognitive control, their ability to pay attention and process emotional information appropriately may be impaired, for example.

E. Halali, N. Meiran, and I. Shalev.  2017.  “Keep It Cool:  Temperature Priming Effect on Cognitive Control.”  Psychological Research, vol. 81, no. 2, pp. 343-354.

Bellezza, Paharia, and Keinan found that people link appearing busy with perceived higher status, at least in American workplaces.  Their findings indicate that it may be desirable to eliminate visual shielding around some busy people, in the US, for example, those doing work that doesn’t require them to focus.  The Bellezza team determined that “Americans increasingly perceive busy and overworked people as having high status. . . . the authors conducted a series of studies, drawing participants mostly from Italy and the US. While busyness at work is associated with high status among Americans, the effect is reversed for Italians, who still view a leisurely life as representative of high status.”

“Lack of Leisure:  Is Busyness the New Status Symbol.”  2017.  Press release, Journal of Consumer Research,

Altmann and David Hambrick confirm that mental interruptions can impede performance.  They report that  “As steps of a procedure are performed more quickly, memory for past performance . . . become less accurate, increasing the rate of skipped or repeated steps after an interruption. We found this effect, with practice generally improving speed and accuracy, but impairing accuracy after interruptions. . . . In practical terms, the results suggest that practice can be a risk factor for procedural errors in task environments with a high incidence of task interruption.”  These findings have implications for workplace and healthcare design, for example.

Erik Altmann and David Hambrick.  “Practice Increases Procedural Errors After Task Interruption.”  Journal of Experimental Psychology:  General, in press.

Sanders has reviewed the research on the effects of smart phone based navigation tools on our ability to find our way through spaces without them, among other topics.  As she reports, “Instead of checking a map and planning a route before a trip, people can now rely on their smartphones to do the work for them. . . .  Our navigational skills may be at risk as we shift to neurologically easier ways to find our way, says cognitive neuroscientist Véronique Bohbot of McGill University in Montreal.  Historically, getting to the right destination required a person to have the lay of the land, a mental map of the terrain. That strategy takes more work than one that’s called a ‘response strategy,’ the type of navigating that starts with an electronic voice command. . . .  A response strategy is easier, but it leaves people with less knowledge. People who walked through a town in Japan with human guides did a better job later navigating the same route than people who had walked with GPS as a companion, researchers have found.”  Use of GPS-type apps to navigate through spaces may ultimately have implications for wayfinding signage/systems, inside and out.  More signage may need to be posted, for example, so it is available to assist visitors who used electronic systems to initially guide their travels through an area, but whose GPS-type navigation aids are unavailable temporarily.

Laura Sanders.  2017.  “Smartphones May Be Changing the Way We Think.”  Science News, vol. 191, no. 6, p. 18 OR

Research by Westphal-Fitch and Fitch confirms that visual symmetry is valued by humans.  They learned that “symmetrical patterns are not only used most frequently in real life . . .  [they] are rated as significantly more attractive than are random patterns.”

Gesche Westphal-Fitch and Tecumseh Fitch.  “Beauty for the Eye of the Beholder:  Plane Pattern Perception and Production.”  Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press.

It often seems like a good idea to leave empty space around important texts.  New research indicates that white space may not always be a plus. Kwan, Dai, and Wyer found that via seven field and laboratory studies that “The empty space that surrounds a text message can affect the message’s persuasiveness. . . . people find a message less persuasive, and are less likely to act on its implications, when it is surrounded by empty space than when it is not. . . . message recipients infer that a message conveys a less strong opinion when empty space surrounds it and are consequently less likely to accept its implications.”  This finding may be applied both when written reports, etc., are being prepared, and also when wall-mounted graphics are being developed, for example.

Canice Kwan, Xianchi Dai, and Robert Wyer.  “Contextual Influences on Message Persuasion:  The Effect of Empty Space.”  Journal of Consumer Research, in press.

Research collected from Finnish knowledge workers indicates that both taking a walk in nature at lunchtime and doing relaxation exercises over lunch have about the same effect on how tense employees feel after lunch.  Building spaces that support relaxation exercises, and teaching those exercises to employees, could be a viable alternative to developing nature-based experiences in many locations. For 15 minutes during lunch on 10 consecutive workdays participants in the de Bloom lead study walked in a park, did relaxation exercises, or were in a control group that neither walked nor exercised.  The researchers found that  “both intervention groups [the people taking the walks and the people doing the relaxation exercises] reported less tension after lunch breaks.”  The relaxation exercises included “1) a release-only version of progressive muscle relaxation . . . and 2) a deep breathing and acceptance exercise. . . . These methods were targeted at the most important elements in relaxation: muscle relaxation, deep and slow breathing, and acceptance of the here-and-now.”  In summary, “Both interventions - park walking and relaxation exercises - distract attention from the source of stress (e.g., heavy workload, emotional demands, poorly designed work tasks) and instead aim at alleviating individual strain. . . . Park walking and relaxation exercises activities are fairly easy to learn and implement in an organizational setting, and may assist employees in replenishing the resources needed to perform well on the job during the working day. ”

Jessica de Bloom, Marjaana Sianoja, Kalevi Korpela, Martti Tupmisto, Ansa Lilja, Sabine Geurts, and Ulla Kinnunen.  “Effects of Park Walks and Relaxation Exercises During Lunch Breaks on Recovery from Job Stress:  Two Randomized Controlled Trials.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press.

Shahzad and her team studied some of the implications of user control over temperature in their work areas.  The investigators “compared a workplace, which was designed entirely based on individual control over the thermal environment, to an environment that limited thermal control was provided as a secondary option for fine-tuning: Norwegian cellular and British open plan offices. The Norwegian approach provided each user with control over a window, door, blinds, heating and cooling as the main thermal control system. In contrast, the British practice provided a uniform thermal environment with limited openable windows and blinds to refine the thermal environment for occupants seated around the perimeter of the building. . . . The results showed a 30% higher satisfaction and 18% higher comfort level in the Norwegian offices compared to the British practices. However, the energy consumption of the Norwegian case studies was much higher compared to the British ones.”

Sally Shahzad, John Brennan, Dimitris Theodossopoulos, Ben Hughes and John Calautit.  2017.  “A Study of the Impact of Individual Thermal Control on User Comfort in the Workplace:  Norwegian Cellular Vs. British Open Plan Offices.”  Architectural Science Review, vol. 60,no. 1, pp. 49-61.


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