Latest Blog Posts

Kuwabara, Alonso, and Ayala studied perception across cultures.  As they report “Previous studies investigating cultural differences in attention and perception have shown that individuals from Western countries (e.g., the U.S.) perceive more analytically [in a piecemeal fashion, with special attention to focal elements] whereas individuals from East Asian countries (e.g., Japan) perceive more holistically (e.g., Nisbett & Miyamoto, 2005). These differences have been shown in children as young as three years old (Kuwabara & Smith, 2016). . . . we focused on one of such visual environments that young children are exposed to regularly. . . . 37 U.S. picture books and 37 Japanese picture books were coded for visual contents – how visually crowded. . . . the U.S. picture books are more visually crowded than the Japanese books . . . [and] contained more objects than the Japanese books as expected, which reflect well with the cultural differences in attention observed in young children in previous studies.”

Megumi Kuwabara, Jannette Alonso, and Darlene Ayala. “Cultural Differences in Visual Contents in Picture Books.”  Frontiers in Psychology, in press, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00304

Madzharov continues to conduct interesting studies related to sensory experiences.  In a recent study, she looked at the implications of touching food directly with hands (instead of indirectly via utensils such as forks) while it is being eaten; eventually being able to extend her findings beyond this context would be useful.  Madzharov determined that “for consumers who apply self-control in their food consumption (high self-control consumers) touching food directly with hands enhances the sensory experience and increases hedonic [pleasure-related] evaluations of the food [it seems tastier and more satisfying]. Importantly, direct touch increases the consumption volume for high self-control consumers. These findings contribute to understanding of how touch as a proximal sensory factor affects food evaluation and consumption, and thus offer retailing implications in the context of in-store food sampling, food catering, presentation and consumption of food in restaurants.”

Adriana Madzharov.  2019.  “Self-Control and Touch:  When Does Direct Versus Indirect Touch Increase Hedonic Evaluations and Consumption of Food.”  Journal of Retailing, vol. 95, no. 4, pp. 170-185,

Skavronskaya and colleagues studied how responses to novel experiences can evolve over time.  They determined via an assessment of tourism related situations that  “Novel experiences, whether positive or negative, were identified as critical to experience memorability. . . . Novelty contributes to how spatial, temporal and contextual details of tourism experiences are remembered and reconstructed due to the elicitation of intense emotions. Analysis revealed negative experiences deemed as novel were found to be re-evaluated and often remembered as a positive experience.”

Liubov Skavronskaya, Brent Moyle, and Noel Scott. “The Experience of Novelty and the Novelty of Experience.”   Frontiers in Psychology, in press, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00322

Walker, Rett, and Bonawitz link design cues and learning. They studied if an object’s “design can facilitate recognition of abstract causal rules [systems]. In Experiment 1, . . . three-year-olds were presented with evidence consistent with a relational rule (i.e., pairs of same or different blocks activated a machine) using two differently designed machines. In the standard-design condition, blocks were placed on top of the machine; in the relational-design condition, blocks were placed into openings on either side. In Experiment 2, we assessed whether this design cue could facilitate adults’ . . . inference of a distinct conjunctive cause (i.e., that two blocks together activate the machine). Results of both experiments demonstrated that causal inference is sensitive to an artifact’s design: Participants in the relational-design conditions were more likely to infer rules that were a priori unlikely. . . . These findings have clear implications for creating intuitive learning environments.”

Caren Walker, Alexandra Rett, and Elizabeth Bonawitz. 2020. “Design Drives Discovery in Causal Learning.”  Psychological Science, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 129-138,

A large team lead by Jackson determined that languages vary in how they link emotions; their findings may be useful to people conducting research in different parts of the world, for example.  The group studied 24 terms for emotions in thousands of spoken languages, and report that “Many human languages have words for emotions such as ‘anger’ and ‘fear,’ yet it is not clear whether these emotions have similar meanings across languages, or why their meanings might vary. We estimate emotion semantics across a sample of 2474 spoken languages using ‘colexification’—a phenomenon in which languages name semantically related concepts with the same word.  Analyses show significant variation in networks of emotion concept colexification, which is predicted by the geographic proximity of language families. We also find evidence of universal structure in emotion colexification networks, with all families differentiating emotions primarily on the basis of hedonic valence [positive or negative] and physiological activation.  Our findings contribute to debates about universality and diversity in how humans understand and experience emotion.” So, in short, the Jackson team looked at how concepts such as happiness or love are related in different languages.  They determined that in Persian the same word is used to convey grief and regret, for example, and that it some dialects spoken in Russia the same word expresses both grief and anxiety.  In some languages spoken in Russia anger was linked to envy but in some Austronesian ones it was tied to terms such as hate, and bad, and proud.  These findings indicate that emotional universals may not be as prevalent as cross-cultural researchers would find useful, although there clearly are some consistencies regarding emotions across groups.

Joshua Jackson, Joseph Watts, Teague Henry, Johann-Mattis List, Robert Forkel, Peter Mucha, Simon Greenhill, Russell Gray, and Kristen Lindquist.  2019. “Emotion Semantics Show Both Cultural Variation and Universal Structure.”  Science, vol. 366, no. 6472, pp. 1517-1522, DOI:  10.1126/science.aaw8160

Recently completed research indicates that potential users of bike sharing services are not willing to walk much to pick up that shared bike.  Girotra, Belavina, and Kabra determined that Even a relatively short walk to find the nearest bicycle is enough to deter many potential users of bike sharing systems. . . . outside of a few big stations at major transit hubs, cities and bike-share operators should strive to create denser networks with many smaller stations . . .  and keep them stocked.. . . . someone roughly 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) from a docking station is 60% less likely to use the service than someone very near the station. The odds decrease slightly with every additional meter, such that someone 500 meters away – about one-third of a mile – is ‘highly unlikely to use the system.’  But a 10% increase in bike availability – the likelihood of finding a bicycle at a station – would grow ridership by roughly 12%. . . . placing stations near grocery stores provides the most benefit.”  This bike sharing-related study is published in Management Science.

James Dean. 2020.  “If It Takes a Hike, Riders Won’t  Go for Bike Sharing.”  Press release, Cornell University/ Cornell Chronicle,

Qi lead a research team that confirmed that having others nearby can be desirable in many stressful situations.   In areas where people will have stressful experiences, at least some seats, according to the Qi team, should allow people to see others in the same space. Qi and colleagues report that “In our study, participants experienced aversive and neutral sounds alone (alone treatment) or with an unknown person that was physically present without providing active support [there was no social or physical interaction]. The present person was a member of the participants' ethnical group (ingroup treatment) or a different ethnical group (outgroup treatment). . . . We measured skin conductance responses (SCRs) and collected subjective similarity and affect ratings. The mere presence of an ingroup or outgroup person significantly reduced SCRs to the aversive sounds compared with the alone condition, in particular in participants with high situational anxiety. . . . Our results indicate that the mere presence of another person was sufficient to diminish autonomic responses to aversive events in humans.”  All study participants were women and they were assessed in the “mere presence” of other women.

Yanyan Qi, Martin Hermann, Luisa Bell, Anna Fackler, Shihui Han, Jurgen Deckert, and Grit Hein.  2020.  “The Mere Physical Presence of Another Person Reduces Human Autonomic Responses to Aversive Sounds.”  Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Studies, vol. 287, no. 1919,

New research confirms that scents we smell as we learn and sleep influence our cognitive performance. Neumann, Oberhauser, and Kornmeier conducted a field study with sixth graders anddetermined that when people smelled the same scent when learning material and later while sleeping (scent was present all night) that they remembered the learned material better after waking up.  The scent used by researchers was of roses.

Franziska Neumann, Vitus Oberhauser, and Jorgen Kornmeier.  2020. “How Odor Cues Help to Optimize Learning During Sleep in a Real Life-Setting.”  Scientific Reports, vol. 10, no. 1227,

A study published in the medical journal The Lancet links urban design to road transport injuries. Thompson lead a study during which “1692 cities capturing one third of the world's population were classified into types based on urban design characteristics. . . . road transport injury was an estimated two-times higher . . . for the poorest performing city type compared with the best performing city type, culminating in an estimated loss of 8·71 (8·08–9·25) million disability-adjusted life-years per year attributable to suboptimal urban design. City types that featured a greater proportion of railed public transport networks combined with dense road networks characterised by smaller blocks showed the lowest rates of road traffic injury.  . . . It is recommended that road and transport safety efforts promote urban design that features characteristics inherent in identified high-performance city types including higher density road infrastructure and high rates of public transit.”

Jason Thompson, Mark Stevenson, and Jasper Wijnands, and 8 others. 2020.  “A Global Analysis of Urban Design Types and Road Transport Injury:  An Image Processing Study.”  The Lancet,

McFarlane and colleagues have investigated, via an online survey, the sorts of sounds that alarms to wake people up can make and the repercussions of awakening to various sounds. Their findings are generally relevant to people working on creating sounds that alert listeners.  The McFarlane-lead team reports that “Sleep inertia is a potentially dangerous reduction in human alertness and occurs 0–4 hours after waking. . . .  The goal of this research is to understand how a particular sound or music chosen to assist waking may counteract sleep inertia. . . .  Our results did not return any significant association between sleep inertia and the reported waking sound type, nor the subject’s feeling towards their sound. However, the analysis did reveal that a sound which is ranked as melodic by participants shows a significant relationship to reports of reductions in perceived sleep inertia, and in contrast, sound rated as neutral (neither unmelodic nor melodic) returns a significant relationship to the reports of increases in perceived sleep inertia. Additionally, our secondary analysis revealed that a sound rated as melodic is considered to be more rhythmic than a melodically neutral interpretation.”  Sleep inertia could be described as grogginess.

Stuart McFarlane, Jair Garcia, Darrin Verhagen, and Adrian Dyer.  2020.  “Alarm Tones, Music and Their Elements:  Analysis of Reported Waking Sounds to Counteract Sleep Inertia.”  PLoS ONE, vo. 15, no. 1,


Subscribe to Latest Blog Posts