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Omigie and colleagues probed the implications of listening to “beautiful” music; their findings may be applicable to other sensory experiences.  Via an online survey and lab-based research, during which physiological data were collected, the investigators assessed how “self-identified beautiful passages (BPs), in self-selected music, may be distinguishable in terms of their affective [emotional] qualities. . . .  three BP subtypes that we labeled Low-Tension/Low-Energy (LTLE), Low-Tension/High-Energy (LTHE), and High-Tension/High-Energy (HTHE) BPs [were identified]. LTHE and HTHE BPs induced greater interest and were more liked than LTLE BPs. Further, LTHE and HTHE clusters were associated with increases in skin-conductance, in accordance with the higher arousal reported for these BPs, while LTLE BPs resulted in the increases in smiling and respiration-rate previously associated with processing fluency and positive valence. LTLE BPs were also shown to be lower in tempo and polyphony than the other BP types. Finally, while both HTHE and LTHE BPs were associated with changes in dynamics . . . HTHE BPs were associated with increases in pitch register and LTHE BPs, with a tendency towards the major mode and reductions in harmonic ambiguity.”

Diana Omigie, Klaus Frieler, Christian Bar, R. Muralikrishnan, Melanie Wald-Fuhrmann, and Timo Fishinger “Experiencing Musical Beauty:  Emotional Subtypes and Their Physiological and Musico-Acoustic Correlates.” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press, 

Haapakangas and colleagues studied the experience of moving into an activity-based workplace (ABW). Over an extended period, at multiple offices, they evaluated via survey data “the effects of moving into an ABW on satisfaction with communication, on social relations (i.e., social support and social community) and on work demands (i.e., quantitative demands, emotional demands and work pace) 3 months and 12 months after the relocation. . . . Satisfaction with communication and the sense of belonging to a community had decreased 3 and 12 months after the relocation. Work pace was not affected while small, mostly short-term, negative effects on social support, quantitative demands and emotional demands were only observed among employees who had moved to ABWs from private offices. . . . results suggest that, to avoid negative outcomes, organizations moving to ABWs should focus on solving difficulties in locating colleagues at the office and on supporting particularly workers from private offices in adopting activity-based working.”

Annu Haapakangas, David Hallman, Svend Mathiassen and Helena Jahncke.  “The Effects of Moving Into an Activity-Based Office on Communication, Social Relations and Work Demands – A Controlled Intervention with Repeated Follow-Up.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press,

Hearing low frequencies has significant effects on life experiences. Scientists report “this exploratory study was designed to investigate the effects of lower frequency sound (10 Hz to 200 Hz) on the perception of the mouthfeel character of palate weight/body. . . . Wines were the tastants — a New Zealand Pinot Noir and a Spanish Garnacha — which were tasted in silence and with a 100 Hz (bass) and a higher 1000 Hz sine wave tone. . . . the Pinot Noir wine was rated as significantly fuller-bodied when tasted with a bass frequency than in silence or with a higher frequency sound. The low frequency stimulus also resulted in the Garnacha wine being rated as significantly more aromatically intense than when tasted in the presence of the higher frequency auditory stimulus. Acidity was rated considerably higher with the higher frequency in both wines by those with high wine familiarity and the Pinot Noir significantly better liked than the Garnacha.”

Jo Burzynska, Qian Wang, Charles Spence, and Susan Bastian. 2019.  “Taste the Bass:  Low Frequencies Increase the Perception of Body and Aromatic Intensity in Red Wine.” Multisensory Research, vol. 32, no. 4-5,

How does music heard while dining influence the eating experience?  Reinoso-Carvalho and colleagues report that “two contrasting music tracks (positive vs negative emotion) were presented to consumers while tasting beer. . . . Participants liked the beer more, and rated it as tasting sweeter, when listening to music associated with positive emotion. The same beer was rated as more bitter, with higher alcohol content, and as having more body, when the participants listened to music associated with negative emotion. Moreover, participants were willing to pay 7–8% more for the beer that was tasted while they listened to positive music. This novel methodology was subsequently replicated with two different styles of beer.”

Felipe Reinoso-Carvalho. Silvana Dakduk, Johan Wagemans, and Charles Spence.  2019. “Not Just Another Pint!  The Role of Emotion Induced by Music on the Consumer’s Tasting Experience.”  Multisensory Research, vol. 32, no. 4-5,

Lin and teammates investigated multi-sensory experiences involving sound.  In a lab, they probed “the effects of environmental sounds (park, food court, fast food restaurant, cafe, and bar sounds) on the perception of chocolate gelato (specifically, sweet, bitter, milky, creamy, cocoa, roasted, and vanilla notes). . . . The results revealed that bitterness, roasted, and cocoa notes were more evident when the bar, fast food, and food court sounds were played. Meanwhile, sweetness was cited more in the early mastication [chewing] period when listening to park and café sounds.”

Yi Lin, Nazimah Hamid, Daniel Shepherd, Kevin Kantono, and Charles Spence.  2019.  “Environmental Sounds Influence the Multisensory Perception of Chocolate Gelati.” Foods, vol. 8, no. 4, p. 124,

Visual complexity is frequently studied, and previous research on this topic has been discussed several times in Research Design Connections.  A study conducted by Wang and team confirms the benefits of designing in moderate levels of visual complexity.  They learned that for web design “Product images with higher background complexity attract greater attention. . . . Higher background complexity distracts more attention away from the focal product. . . . Moderate background complexity can best promote product information processing. . . . Moderate background complexity can best facilitate consumer purchase intention. . . . Product images with moderate background complexity best promote consumer processing of product information, thereby increasing purchase intention. . . . consumers with a field-dependent cognitive style are more susceptible to being influenced by background complexity.”  Field dependence is discussed here:

Qiuzhen Wang, Da Ma, Hanyue Chen, Xuhong Ye, and Qing Xu.  “Effects of Background Complexity on Consumer Visual Processing:  An Eye-Tracking Study.”  Journal of Business Research, in press,

How food is plated influences how it is perceived; this finding may be applicable in settings that don’t involve those tested. Researchers evaluated “how the plating (i.e., visual composition) of a dish influences people's hedonic preferences and their perception of portion size. . . .  the centrally-plated dessert was rated as a larger portion than the offset version of exactly the same dish. The food was also liked more and the participants/diners were willing to pay more for it when . . .  centrally arranged. These results provide important guidelines for enhancing the visual arrangement of a dish, in order to increase enjoyment, and possibly also nudge consumers toward better food choices.”

Jessica Rowley and Charles Spence.  2018.  “Does the Visual Composition of a Dish Influence the Perception of Portion Size and Hedonic Preference?”  Appetite, vol. 128, pp. 79-86,

Associations identified between shapes and tastes can realistically be extended to other contexts.  Investigators report that “We replicated the results of previous studies showing that round shapes are associated with sweet taste, whereas angular shapes are associated with sour and bitter tastes. . . . These results were consistent across cultures, when we compared participants from Taiwanese and Western (UK, US, Canada) cultures. Our findings highlight that perceived pleasantness and threat are culturally common factors involved in at least some crossmodal correspondences.”

Nora Turoman, Carlos Velasco, Yi-Chuan Chen, Pi-Chun Huang, and Charles Spence.  2018. “Symmetry and Its Role in the Crossmodal Correspondence Between Shape and Taste.”  Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, vol. 80, no. 3, pp. 738-751, doi:  10.3758/s13414-017-1463-x

Casner shares important insights into the occasionally baffling ways that humans’ fallible minds interact with the world that surrounds them.  His neuroscience-based focus is on situations during which humans injure themselves, and sometimes others, primarily via everyday behaviors of some sort gone wrong.  The material in this very readable text can be applied by people developing environments at varying scales, from places/objects to be used by one person to those utilized by groups.  Suggestions for improvement shared by Casner are useful to designers with a wide range of skills and experience.

Steve Casner. 2017. Careful:  A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds.  Penguin; New York.

Research by Naz and colleagues confirms that our experiences in real and comparable virtual worlds are fundamentally equivalent.  They report that “The emotional response a person has to a living space is predominantly affected by light, color and texture as space-making elements. . . . we conducted a user study in a six-sided projected immersive display that utilized equivalent design attributes of brightness, color and texture in order to assess to which extent the emotional response in a simulated environment is affected by the same parameters affecting real environments. . . . Data from the experiments confirmed the hypothesis that perceivable emotional aspects of real-world spaces could be successfully generated through simulation of design attributes in the virtual space. The subjective response to the virtual space was consistent with corresponding responses from real-world color and brightness emotional perception.”

Asma Naz, Regis Kopper, Ryan McMahan, and Mihai Nadin. 2017.  “Emotional Qualities of VR Space.” IEEE Virtual Reality Conference, March 18-22, Los Angeles, CA


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