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Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at Wharton, studied how objects become special and wrote a related paper with Jacqueline Rifkin (“How Nonconsumption Can Turn Ordinary Items Into Perceived Treasures”).  When discussing this paper Berger reports on “a specialness spiral. You take an ordinary item and forgo using it once. Because of that, you start to see it as a little more special. . . . The next opportunity has to be even better, which means that it’s less likely to be used, so it becomes even more special. It’s this ratcheting upward of a specialness spiral where an item that started out very ordinary, through repeated lack of use eventually becomes quite special and seen more as a treasure. . . .we don’t mean to suggest that all clutter is driven by this. . . . Marketers may want to consider a number of ways of dealing with this. Maybe it’s associating offerings with a specific usage occasion. . . . brands could consider encouraging consumers to use their offerings as soon as possible after purchase. . . . even if they’re nonperishable.”

“Curbing Clutter:  Why Do We Hold On to Things We Never Use?” 2021.  Knowledge @ Wharton,

Research continues on sounds linked to curving and rectilinear forms.  Cwiek and colleagues report that “Most people around the world agree that the made-up word ‘bouba’ sounds round in shape, and the made-up word ‘kiki’ sounds pointy – a discovery that may help to explain how spoken languages develop, according to a new study. Language scientists have discovered that this effect exists independently of the language that a person speaks or the writing system that they use, and it could be a clue to the origins of spoken words. . . . The ‘bouba/kiki effect’ is thought to derive from phonetic and articulatory features of the words, for example, the rounded lips of the 'b' and the stressed vowel in ‘bouba’, and the intermittent stopping and starting of air in pronouncing ‘kiki’.”  This study is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

“Perceptual Links Between Sound and Shape May Unlock Origins of Spoken Words.”  2021.  Press release, University of Birmingham,

Trainin and Yeshurun researched communication during the COVID-19 pandemic.  They report that “we tested the hypothesis that experience in looking in interlocutor’s eyes (as a result of mask-wearing) will be correlated with enhanced performance on ‘reading the mind in the eyes test’ (RMET). . . . We found that reported tendency to look at interlocutors' eyes, combined with experience in interacting with other people wearing masks, explained individual differences in RMET performance. Moreover, we found that individual’s tendency to look at interlocutors' eyes was correlated with change in performance in reading the mind in the eyes over this month. These results suggest that in addition to individual’s interest and motivation in understanding other’s mental state, continuous everyday experiences can result in an improved capacity for reading mental and emotional states by looking into individuals' eyes.”

Nitzan Trainin and Yaara Yeshurun.  “Reading the Mind with a Mask?  Improvement in Reading the Mind in the Eyes During the COVID-19 Pandemic”  Emotion, in press,

A current exhibit at the Wellcome Collection in London focuses on encouraging feelings of tranquility. A particularly intriguing section relates to forest bathing: “Researchers at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo first publicised their research into the health benefits of shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ in the 1980s. In 2019 Chrystel Lebas travelled to the Hoh Rain Forest in Washington State, USA, and then on to the Japanese island of Yakushima, known for its Yakusugi or cedar trees. These two temperate rainforests contain some of the oldest living trees in the world. Lebas takes photographs with a long exposure to capture a rich spectrum of blues and greens in the last moments of daylight. In this installation, these monumental photographs are accompanied by a natural soundscape recorded on location and a scent of petrichor that evokes the smell of the forest floor after it has rained.” For more information and images, visit

Joseph Allen, the director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program clearly lays out in a recent article in The Atlantic (free at the web address below) why effective workplace ventilation is so important.  His piece includes information that’s crucial for every workplace designer and manager to know and to apply.  For example:  “My team at Harvard recently published research on the health of several hundred office workers around the world for more than a year. We found that people performed better on cognition tests when the ventilation rate in their working environment was higher. When they were exposed to more outdoor air, they responded to questions more quickly and got more answers right.  Our team reached a similar finding a few years back in a tightly controlled laboratory setting. In that study, people did notably better on cognitive tasks when carbon dioxide made up about 600 parts per million of the air they breathed than when it made up about 1,000 parts per million. . . .  In our new research, we observed the effect in real buildings globally. We also observed a reduction of worker performance even at indoor CO2 levels that many researchers had previously assumed were perfectly fine.”

Joseph Allen.  2021.  “Employers Have Been Offering the Wrong Office Amenities.”  The Atlantic,

Research on topics related to workplace ventilation continues.  A Laurent-lead team reports that their goal was “to understand whether cognitive function was associated with real-time indoor concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon dioxide (CO2). We conducted a prospective observational longitudinal study among 302 office workers in urban commercial buildings located in six countries (China, India, Mexico, Thailand, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom). For 12 months, [we] assessed cognitive function. . . . We found that higher PM2.5 and lower ventilation rates, as assessed by CO2 concentration, were associated with slower response times and reduced accuracy (fewer correct responses per minute). . . . Enhanced filtration and higher ventilation rates that exceed current minimum targets are essential public health strategies that may improve employee productivity.”

Jose Laurent, Piers MacNaughton, Emily Jones, Anna Young, Maya Bliss, Skye Flanigan, Jose Vallarino, Ling Chen, Xiaodong Cao, and Joseph Allen. 2021.  “Associations Between Acute Exposures to PM2.5 and Carbon Dioxide Indoors and Cognitive Function in Office Workers:  A Multicountry Longitudinal Prospective Observational Study.”  Environmental Research Letters, vol. 16, no. 6,

Ratcliffe’s work confirms the value of nature soundtracks in particular contexts.  She determined via a literature review that “nature is broadly characterized by the sounds of birdsong, wind, and water, and these sounds can enhance positive perceptions of natural environments presented through visual means. Second, isolated from other sensory modalities these sounds are often, although not always, positively affectively appraised and perceived as restorative. Third, after stress and/or fatigue nature sounds and soundscapes can lead to subjectively and objectively improved mood and cognitive performance, as well as reductions in arousal. . . . not all nature sounds are regarded equally positively. . . . [for example] Bradley and Lang (2007) measured 167 sounds. . . . Some natural sounds, such as water and birds, scored relatively high on pleasure while others, such as growling, were rated as less pleasant. . . . . Hedblom et al. (2014) observed that combinations of bird sounds were rated as more pleasant than the sounds of a single species.”

Eleanor Ratcliffe.  2021. “Sound and Soundscape in Restorative Natural Environments: A Narrative Literature Review.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12, 570563,

De Groot evaluated how in-store scents influence shopping behavior.  He determined via data collected in “a second-hand clothing store [where study participants] could face one of three conditions: fresh linen scent (pleasant and semantically priming ‘clean clothing’ increasing the products' value), vanilla sandalwood scent (pleasant control odor), or regular store odor (odorless control). . . . .  that fresh linen scent almost doubled consumer spending vs. the odorless control and the pleasant control odor. Other factors potentially affecting consumer behavior (e.g., weekday, weather, odor awareness) were uncorrelated. . . .  only fresh linen scent increased mood and evaluations of the store, staff, and products. . . .  consumers are no “zombies” that empty their pockets in the presence of whatever odor; the smell needs to have a meaningful link to the (sustainable) context at hand to influence consumer behavior.”

Jasper de Groot.  2021.  “Smells in Sustainable Environments:  The Scented Silk Road to Spending.”  Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12, 718279,

Hornstein, Fanselow, and Eisenberger studied links between feeling something warm and perceptions of safety.  They learned that “a physically warm stimulus was less readily associated with threat (compared to soft or neutral stimuli; Study 1) and was able to inhibit the fear response elicited by other threatening cues (compared to neutral stimuli; Study 2). Results showed that physical warmth resisted association with threat (Study 1) and not only inhibited the fear response but also led to lasting inhibition even after the warm stimulus was removed (Study 2).”  In the warmth condition, an activated warm pack was placed in the study participant’s right hand.

E. Hornstein, M. Fanselow, and N. Eisenberger.  “Warm Hands, Warm Hearts:  An Investigation of Physical Warmth as a Prepared Safety Stimulus.”  Emotion, in press,


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