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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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Hubner and Fillinger investigated how the apparent balance and stability of elements in images influenced how much they were liked.  They determined that “for the multiple-element stimuli, there was a positive relation between balance/stability and liking. . . . each element in a picture has a certain visual ‘weight’ depending on its features like size, shape, and color (Arnheim, 1954). . . . a heavy weight located on one side of the fulcrum can be balanced by a lighter weight positioned further away on the other side. . . . Pierce (1894) observed that balance is mainly applied for the horizontal arrangement of elements, whereas for vertical arrangements stability plays a greater role. For instance, pictures were preferred when they had more weight in their lower part rather than in their upper half.. . . . pictures were rated as more balanced if the center of mass was closer to the geometric center of the picture.”  The authors point out that balance/stability are just two of the factors that can influence visual preference.

Ronald Hubner and Martin Fillinger.  “Perceptual Balance, Stability, and Aesthetic Appreciation:  Their Relations Depend on the Picture Type.”  i-Perception, in press, DOI: 10.1177/2041669519856040

Stork and colleagues investigated how music influenced mood and enjoyment of sprint interval training (SIT).  They determined that “Motivational music enhanced affect [mood] and enjoyment of sprint interval training (SIT).  Heart rate and peak power output were elevated during SIT in the music condition. Perceived exertion was similar across music, podcast, and no-audio SIT conditions. . . . While sprint interval training (SIT) is time-efficient and can elicit meaningful health benefits among adults who are insufficiently active, one major drawback is that people can find it to be unpleasant. . . . effects of researcher-selected motivational music during a low-volume SIT protocol performed by insufficiently active adults [were investigated]. . . . The application of music during SIT has the potential to enhance feelings of pleasure, improve enjoyment, and elevate performance of SIT for adults who are insufficiently active, which may ultimately lead to better adherence to this type of exercise.”  Music played by researchers was described as fast-tempo and “upbeat.”  Study participants listened to the selected music, podcasts, or neither the music nor the podcasts.

Matthew Stork, Costas Karageorghis, Kathleen Ginnis.  “Let’s Go:  Psychological, Psychophysical, and Physiological Effects of Music During Sprint Interval Exercise.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise, in press,

Research conducted by Cohen and her colleagues indicates that smells influence our memory performance; which can support strategic scentscaping of environments. The investigators had participants complete “an olfactory Pavlovian category conditioning task in which trial-unique exemplars from one of two categories were partially reinforced with an aversive odor. Participants then returned 24 h later to complete a recognition memory test. We found better corrected recognition memory for the reinforced versus the unreinforced category of stimuli in both adults and adolescents. Further analysis revealed that enhanced recognition memory was driven specifically by better memory for the reinforced exemplars. Autonomic arousal during learning was also related to subsequent memory. These findings build on previous work in adolescent and adult humans and rodents showing comparable acquisition of aversive Pavlovian conditioned responses across age groups and demonstrate that memory for stimuli with an acquired aversive association is enhanced in both adults and adolescents.”  So, memories formed are stronger when an unpleasant smell is present when whatever is to be remembered is initially experienced.  In the Cohen-lead study, participants reported smells that they thought were unpleasant before the data gathering began and unpleasant smells used included manure and rotting fish.

Alexandra Cohen, Nicholas Matese, Anastasia Filimontseva, Xinxu Shen, Tracey Shi, Ethan Livne, and Catherine Hartley.  2019.  “Aversive Learning Strengthens Episodic Memory in Both Adolescents and Adults.”  Learning and Memory, vol. 26, pp. 2720279, doi:  19.1101/lm.048413.118

Roskams and Haynes studied how workplace design can promote employee health. Via a literature review they distinguished  “three components of an employee’s ‘sense of coherence’ (comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness), an individual orientation associated with more positive health outcomes. . . . Comprehensibility can be supported by effectively implementing a clear set of rules governing the use of the workplace. Manageability can be supported through biophilic design solutions, and through design which supports social cohesion and physical activity. Meaningfulness can be supported by recognising the importance of personal identity expression and through design which reinforces the employees’ sense of purpose. . . . The key contribution of this paper is to encourage researchers and practitioners to recognise the crucial role that an individual’s sense of coherence plays in supporting higher levels of physical and mental health.”

Michael Roskams and Barry Haynes.  2019. “Salutogenic Workplace Design:  A Conceptual Framework for Supporting Sense of Coherence Through Environmental Resources.”  Journal of Corporate Real Estate, in press.

A research team lead by Dillon has determined that our brain may be particularly attuned to identifying lines that are parallel or perpendicular; which suggests that deviations from parallel and perpendicular conditions are reliably noted.  The researchers found that “participants were most precise when detecting 2 parallel or perpendicular lines among other pairs of lines at different relative orientations. Detection was also enhanced for 2 connected lines whose angle approached 90°, with precision peaking at 90°. These patterns emerged despite large variations in the scales and orientations of the angle exemplars. . . . the enhanced detection of perpendiculars persisted when stimuli were rotated in depth, indicating a capacity to discriminate shapes based on perpendicularity in 3 dimensions despite large variation in angles’ 2-dimensional projections. The results suggest that 2 categorical concepts which lie at the foundation of Euclidean geometry, parallelism and perpendicularity, are reflected in our discrimination of simple visual forms.”

Moira Dillon, Marianne Duyck, Stanislas Dehaene, and Veronique Izard.  “Geometric Categories in Cognition.”  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, in press,

Research conducted by Witkower and Tracy indicates that the tilt of someone’s head has a significant influence on how other people think about them; design can make it more or less likely that people’s heads are at the same level, so this study can have practical implications.  The researchers determined that “head movements can dramatically shift the appearance of the face to shape social judgments without engaging facial musculature. In five studies . . . we found that when eye gaze was directed forward, tilting one’s head downward (compared with a neutral angle) increased perceptions of dominance, and this effect was due to the illusory appearance of lowered and V-shaped eyebrows caused by a downward head tilt.”  During the study, the heads of people being assessed were “tilted upward 10° . . . at a neutral angle (i.e., 0°), or . . . tilted downward 10°. Eye gaze was directed toward participants in all stimuli.”  Dominance is “defined as the use of intimidation or threat to influence other people.”

Zachary Witkower and Jessica Tracy.  2019.  “A Facial-Action Imposter:  How Head Tilt Influences Perceptions of Dominance From a Neutral Face.”  Psychological Science, vol. 30, no. 6, pp. 893-906,

Research completed by Inagaki and Human confirms that there are ties between physical and social warmth. The Inagaki/Human team found that “Growing evidence suggests that physical warmth and social warmth—feeling socially connected to others—are linked. . . . the current study examined tympanic [in-ear] temperature, a measure of internal body temperature, and feelings of social connection assessed multiple times a day over 1 week. . . .  moment-to-moment changes in tympanic temperature covaried with feelings of social connection across assessments. Thus, warmer body temperatures, in the nonfebrile [non-fever] range, were associated with greater feelings of social connection, and cooler body temperatures were associated with lower feelings of social connection. These findings provide further evidence for the link between physical and social warmth.”

Tristen Inagaki and Lauren Human. “Physical and Social Warmth:  Warmer Daily Body Temperature Is Associated with Greater Feelings of Social Connection.”  Emotion, in press,

Bellet studied the implications of building large new homes in neighborhoods.  He reports that “Despite a major upscaling of single-family houses since 1980, house satisfaction has remained steady in American suburbs. . . . Combining data from the American Housing Surveys with a geolocalised dataset of three million suburban houses, I find that new constructions at the top of the house size distribution lower the satisfaction that neighbors derive from their own house size. Upward-looking comparisons are stronger among people living in larger houses and decrease with the distance from McMansions. I provide further evidence that homeowners exposed to the construction of big houses in their neighborhood put lower prices on their home, are more likely to upscale to a bigger house and take up more debt.”

Clement Bellet. 2019.  “The McMansion Effect:  Top Size Inequality, House Satisfaction and Home Improvement in U.S. Suburbs.”  SSRN,

Research recently published in PLoS ONE indicates that holding some classes outdoors can be a positive experience for both teachers and students.  This finding supports the design of outdoor teaching spaces.  Investigators studied, via interviews and focus groups with students (age 9-11) and teachers at primary schools in Wales, the implications of implementing “an outdoor learning programme, which entailed teaching the curriculum in the natural environment for at least an hour a week. . . . Lead author of the study Emily Marchant . . . explained: ‘We found that the pupils felt a sense of freedom when outside the restricting walls of the classroom. They felt more able to express themselves, and enjoyed being able to move about more too. They also said they felt more engaged and were more positive about the learning experience. We also heard many say that their well-being and memory were better, and teachers told us how it helped engage all types of learners. . . . once outdoor learning was embedded within the curriculum, [teachers] spoke of improved job satisfaction and personal wellbeing.’”

“Study Reveals How Just an Hour or Two of Outdoor Learning Every Week Engages Children, Improves Their Wellbeing and Increases Teachers’ Job Satisfaction.”  2019.  Press release, Swansea University,


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