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Scientists continue to investigate how the bacteria in the microbiomes inside our bodies influence the ways that we think and behave.  Armstrong reports that “It’s tempting to tell yourself that you, or rather your brain, is the only driver behind the wheel when it comes to controlling your mind and body.  According to emerging research on bacteria and our brains, however, we may actually have some pretty powerful passengers riding shotgun:  the trillions of organisms that make up each of our microbiomes. . . . Our brains and the bacteria in our guts have a bidirectional, often mutually beneficial relationship unique to each individual the authors [Leigh Smith, University of California, Davis; Emily Wissel, Emory University] explain. There is a staggering amount of diversity both in the bacteria  we carry and in how our bodies react to them.”  People designing spaces and objects that support particular sorts of physical and cognitive experiences could find themselves applying research on human microbiomes as its practical uses become clear.

Kim Armstrong. 2018.  “Brains and Bacteria.”  Observer, vol. 31, no. 10, pp. 18-21. 

People negotiating with clients or developing at-client dining experiences can apply recent research related to sharing meals.  Fishbach and Woolley report that “When people in a business negotiation share not just a meal but a plate, they collaborate better and reach deals faster. . . .Sharing plates is customary in Chinese and Indian cultures, among others. Because the custom requires people to coordinate their physical actions, it might in turn prompt them to coordinate their negotiations.”  Fishbach and Woolley found that outcomes were the same when diners were friends and when they were strangers.  This study will be published in Psychological Science.

“Trying to Get People to Agree?  Skip the French Restaurant and Go Out for Chinese Food.”  2018.  Press release, University of Chicago,

Valdimarsdottir and colleagues studied depression levels among a hospitalized group; they linked lighting conditions and depression.  The team reports that “Over a third of multiple myeloma (MM) patients report clinical levels of depression during autologous stem cell transplant (ASCT) hospitalization. . . .Patients . . . scheduled to receive an ASCT . . . were randomly assigned to one of two PEI [programmed environmental illumination] conditions involving delivery of either circadian active bright white light (BWL) or circadian inactive dim white light (DWL) throughout the room from 7 to 10 am daily during hospitalization. . . . analysis . . . [indicated] that PEI prevented the development of depression during hospitalization, with effects reaching significance by the third day of engraftment. At the third day of engraftment, 68.4% of the participants in the DWL comparison condition met the criteria for clinically significant depression compared to 42.1% in the BWL condition.. . . PEI using BWL during MM ASCT hospitalization is effective in reducing the development of depression.”

H. Valdimarsdottir, M. Figueiro, W. Holden, S. Lutgendorf, L. Wu, S. Ancoli-Israel, J. Chen, A. Hoffman-Peterson, J. Granski, N. Prescott, A. Vega, N. Stern, G. Winkel, and W. Redd. 2018.  “Programmed Environmental Illumination During Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation Hospitalization for the Treatment of Multiple Myeloma Reduces Severity of Depression:  A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial.”  Cancer Medicine, vol. 7, no. 9, pp. 4345-4353, doi:10.1002/cam4.1690.

Garrett and her team investigated the effects of views of water (for example, of oceans) on wellbeing. They found that “A view of blue space from the home was related to good self-reported [general] health” and that “Visiting blue spaces regularly was associated with high wellbeing.”  Also, “Visiting blue space regularly was more likely for those within a 10–15 min walk, and who believed visit locations had good facilities and wildlife present. Longer blue space visits, and those involving higher intensity activities, were associated with higher recalled wellbeing. Our evidence suggests that, at least for older citizens, Hong Kong's blue spaces could be an important public health resource.”  Data were collected in Hong Kong and 80% of participants were over 50 years old.  

Joanne Garrett, Mathew White, Junjie Huang, Simpson Ng, Zero Hui, Colette Leung, Lap Tse, Franklin Fung, Lewis Elliott, Michael Depledge, and Martin Wong.  “Urban Blue Space and Health and Wellbeing in Hong Kong:  Results from a Survey of Older Adults.” Health and Place, in press,

Research by Homeke, Holler, and Levinson confirms how important it is that people be able to see each other well during conversations, whether discussions are in-person or electronic.  The investigators report that  “In face-to-face communication, recurring intervals of mutual gaze allow listeners to provide speakers with visual feedback (e.g. nodding). . . . we investigate the potential feedback function of one of the subtlest of human movements—eye blinking. . . . we developed a novel, virtual reality-based experimental paradigm, which enabled us to selectively manipulate blinking in a virtual listener, creating small differences in blink duration resulting in ‘short’ (208 ms) and ‘long’ (607 ms) blinks. We found that speakers unconsciously took into account the subtle differences in listeners’ blink duration, producing substantially shorter answers in response to long listener blinks. Our findings suggest that . . . listener blinks are . . . perceived as communicative signals, directly influencing speakers’ communicative behavior in face-to-face communication.”

Paul Homeke, Judith Holler, and Stephen Levinson.  2018. “Eye Blinks Are Perceived As Communicative Signals in Human Face-to-Face Interaction.”  PLoS ONE, vol. 13, no. 12, e0208030,

Researchers are developing a better understanding of how the sensory experiences of people with autism change over the course of their lives.  New studies have shown that “in people with autism . . . sensory responses change between childhood and adulthood. . . . Individuals with autism often report sensitivity to bright lights and loud sounds, as well as a variety of other sensory disturbances and differences. These can lead to problems in their everyday life, for example they might avoid bright or noisy environments. . . .  researchers asked both children and adults, with and without autism, to look at patterns on a computer screen that flickered at specific rates.” Investigators found different patterns of brain activity in children and adults with autism; practical implications of the differences found were not reported.  The identification of sensory differences indicates that extrapolating from the design-related experiences of adults with autism to those of children with autism, or vice versa, is potentially problematic.

“Brain Activity Shows Development of Visual Sensitivity in Autism.”  2018. Press release, University of York,

Newly published research indicates that whether people are asked to make selections using check marks or x’s makes a difference.  Yoon and Vargas report that “we find that the check and X marks carry different symbolic associations; people associate check with good and X with bad. . . . People who make positively connoted [implied] check marks (as opposed to negatively connoted X marks) to indicate their judgments are more agreeable toward familiar, controversial social policies as well as market research survey items on values and life styles. Differential symbolic markings with check and X marks seem to shape how people think and make judgments. . . . Consumers instructed to make check marks may be more agreeable, whereas those instructed to make X marks may be more disagreeable.” Also, “The ways people construe the meanings of marks could also be shaped by their culture. . . .  For instance, a check mark is used to symbolize wrong in Sweden and Finland; an O mark signifies acceptance in Korea and Japan.”

Gunwoo Yoon and Patrick Vargas. 2018.  “The Subtle Influence of Check and X Marks:  How Symbolic Markings Influence Judgment.” Journal of Consumer Psychology, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 682-688, 

Perfecto, Donnelly, and Critcher assessed how people estimate volume.  They determined that  “The same container is judged larger when right side up than when upside down because of the greater ease of imagining filling an upright container. . . . Imagining pouring water through a narrow opening toward a relatively wide base produces a sense that the container is cavernous and large (compared with identically sized, wide-topped, narrow-based containers).”

Hannah Perfecto, Kristin Donnelly, and Clayton Critcher.  “Volume Estimation Through Mental Simulation.”  Psychological Science,in press,

Han and Gershoff found that how much control we feel we have in a particular situation influences perceived physical distances.  The team learned that “Prior research has found that people perceive positive objects and locations as physically closer than negative ones. . . .  across four studies, we show that high (vs. low) control makes positive targets feel closer and negative targets feel more distant in both physical space (Studies 1 and 1a) and time (Studies 2 and 2a). Then, in Studies 3 and 4, we simultaneously examine perceptions of spatial and temporal distance and show that baseline differences in perceived control between these domains can explain the prior discrepant findings. . . . a within‐paper meta‐analysis offers further support to these findings.”

Jerry Han and Andrew Gershoff. 2018.  “When Good Things Feel Closer and Bad Things Feel Farther: The Role of Perceived Control on Psychological Distance Perception.”  Journal of Consumer Psychology, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 629-643,

Researchers have linked living in a greener area with better cardiovascular health.  A Yeager-lead team reports that they “measured biomarkers of cardiovascular injury and risk in participant blood and urine. We estimated greenness from satellite‐derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) in zones with radii of 250 m and 1 km surrounding the participants’ residences. . contemporaneous NDVI within 250 m of participant residence was inversely associated with urinary levels of epinephrine . . . and F2‐isoprostane. . . . Independent of age, sex, race, smoking status, neighborhood deprivation, statin use, and roadway exposure, residential greenness is associated with lower levels of sympathetic activation, reduced oxidative stress, and higher angiogenic capacity. . . . Living in green spaces is associated with lower stress and diminished cardiovascular disease risk. . . . Persistent exposure to greenness is conducive to cardiovascular health.”

Ray Yeager, Daniel Riggs, Natasha DeJarnett, David Tollerud, Jeffrey Wilson, Daniel Conklin, Timothy O’Toole, James McCracken, Pawel Lorkiewicz, Zhengzhi Xie, Nagma Zafar and 8 more authors.  “Association Between Residential Greenness and Cardiovascular Disease Risk.”  Journal of the American Heart Association, vol. 7, no. 24, e009117, no pagination,


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