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If they’re nearby, our phones effect how we think—in ways that complicate the development of workplaces where people work to their full potential—even if they’re turned off.  Researchers found that “Your cognitive capacity is significantly reduced when your smartphone is within reach — even if it’s off.  . . .  researchers asked study participants to sit at a computer and take a series of tests that required full concentration in order to score well. . . .  Before beginning, participants were randomly instructed to place their smartphones either on the desk face down, in their pocket or personal bag, or in another room. All participants were instructed to turn their phones to silent. . . . participants with their phones in another room significantly outperformed those with their phones on the desk, and they also slightly outperformed those participants who had kept their phones in a pocket or bag. The findings suggest that the mere presence of one’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning. . . . it didn’t matter whether a person’s smartphone was turned on or off, or whether it was lying face up or face down on a desk.”

“The Mere Presence of Your Smartphone Reduces Brain Power, Study Shows.”  2017.  Press release, The University of Texas at Austin,

Chim and her colleagues studied the alignment between people’s preferred mood and their responses to the activities they’re engaged in.  The investigators determined that “people derive more enjoyment from activities that match how they ideally want to feel (their “ideal affect”). . . . the authors conducted 4 studies that examined whether valuing calm and other low arousal positive states (LAP) increased enjoyment of calming (vs. exciting) activities. . . .  the more participants valued LAP, the more enjoyment they experienced during calming (vs. exciting) amusement park rides, both in the United States and Hong Kong.”  These findings by Chim and her team may help designers better understand data collected during the programming phases of projects, for example.

Louise Chim, Candice Hogan, Helene Fung, and Jeanne Tsai.  “Valuing Calm Enhances Enjoyment of Calming (vs. Exciting) Amusement Park Rides and Exercise.”  Emotion, in press.

Moulton, Turkay, and Kosslyn wanted to know more about how the presentation tools used influence listeners’ responses to talks. What they learned is useful to all professionals sharing information.  The researchers “recreated a real-world business scenario in which individuals presented to a corporate board. Participants (playing the role of the presenter) were randomly assigned to create PowerPoint, Prezi, or oral presentations, and then actually delivered the presentation live to other participants (playing the role of corporate executives). . . .  participants evaluated PowerPoint presentations comparably to oral presentations, but evaluated Prezi presentations more favorably than both PowerPoint and oral presentations. . . .  the observed effects of presentation format are not merely the result of novelty, bias, experimenter-, or software-specific characteristics, but instead reveal a communication preference for using the panning-and-zooming animations that characterize Prezi presentations.”  A useful definition: “when we refer to ‘oral presentation’, we mean a presentation that is only spoken and does not include any visual aids or the use of presentation software.”

Samuel Moulton, Selen Turkay, and Stephen Kosslyn.  2017.  “Does a Presentation’s Medium Affect its Message?  PowerPoint, Prezi, and Oral Presentations.”  PLoS ONE, vol. 12, no. 7.

Nielsen and her team investigated the sorts of art preferred by hospital patients.  They determined that patients “primarily ranked items to favor figurative art painted in light colors.”

Stine Nielsen, Michael Mullins, Lars Fich, and Kirsten Roessler.  2017.  “The Significance of Certain Elements in Art for Patients’ Experience and Use.”  Visual Anthropology, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 310-327.

A research team lead by Huckels-Baumgart found that separate medication rooms in hospitals are a good investment.  They report that “Interruptions and errors during the medication process are common. . . . Our aim was to evaluate the effect of separate medication rooms on interruptions during medication preparation and on self-reported medication error rates.  We performed a preintervention and postintervention study using direct structured observation of nurses during medication preparation and daily structured medication error self-reporting of nurses by questionnaires in 2 wards at a major teaching hospital in Switzerland. . . . After the introduction of the separate medication room, the mean interruption rate decreased significantly from 51.8 to 30 interruptions per hour . . . and the interruption-free preparation time increased significantly from 1.4 to 2.5 minutes. . . . Overall, the mean medication error rate per day was also significantly reduced after implementation of the separate medication room from 1.3 to 0.9 errors per day.”  Data were collected from the same group of nurses before and after the separate medication rooms were introduced and medication administration processes did not change when the separate medication rooms were introduced.  The information gathered by Huckels-Baumgart and her colleagues highlights the advantages of doing any work requiring focus without distractions.

Saskia Huckels-Baumgart, Andre Baumgart, Ute Buschmann, Guido Schupfer, and Tanja Manser.  “Separate Medication Preparation Rooms Reduce Interruptions and Medication Errors in the Hospital Setting:  A Prospective Observational Study.”  Journal of Patient Safety, in press.

Environmental microbes, and how they influence how we think and behave, were a hot topic of discussion at NeoCon this year.  A 2016 article in Building and Environment, whose text is available at , shares important insights on these topics.

Adams and her team report that “Buildings represent habitats for microorganisms that can have direct or indirect effects on the quality of our living spaces, health, and well-being.”

The researchers organize their discussion as answers to 10 questions that they feel indicate “important lessons learned regarding the microbiology of buildings and suggest future areas of investigation.”  These questions are: “Q1) What does the microbiome of a typical indoor environment look like? Q2) How do building characteristics, including occupants and their behaviors, influence the indoor microbiome? Q3) How do moisture problems alter typical indoor microbiomes? Q4) How does the microbiome affect indoor chemistry, and how do chemical processes and the composition of building materials influence the indoor microbiome? Q5) What do DNA sequencing and modern analytical techniques tell us about the indoor environment? Q6) What are appropriate sampling methods and constraints for studies of the microbiology of the built environment? Q7) What technological developments will enhance our understanding of the microbiology of the built environment? Q8) What are the connections between indoor microbiomes and occupant health? Q9) What are the implications of recent work for building design and maintenance? Q10) What do all these recent studies NOT tell us?”

The article by Adams and her colleagues is a handy, relatively easy to read introduction to a topic that is likely to be discussed with increased frequency in the months ahead—microbes!

Rachel Adams, Seema Bhangar, Karen Dannemiller, Jonathan Eisen, Noah Fierer, Jack Gilbert, Jessica Green, Linsey Marr, Shelly Miller, Jeffrey Siegel, Brent Stephens, Michael Waring, and Kyle Bibby.  2016.  “Ten Questions Concerning the Microbiomes of Buildings.”  Building and Environment, vol. 109, pp. 224-234.

Bogard carefully details, in The Ground Beneath Us, how the dirt under our feet affects our lives.  He reports on the biological implications of paving over it, for example, and generally makes the point that the ground is a valuable resource that we should use wisely.  Dirt is much more than simply the outer skin of our planet and pavement may not really be our friend.  The text of The Ground Beneath Us makes it clear that dirt is closely tied to both our history and future as a species.

Paul Bogard. 2017.   The Ground Beneath Us:  From the Oldest Cities to the Latest Wilderness, What Dirt Tells Us About Who We Are.  Little, Brown and Company:  New York.

Mathot, Grainger, and Strijkers link words and sensory experiences.  As they describe, “Theories about embodiment of language hold that when you process a word’s meaning, you automatically simulate associated sensory input (e.g., perception of brightness when you process lamp). . . . we measured pupillary responses to single words that conveyed a sense of brightness (e.g., day) or darkness (e.g., night) or were neutral (e.g., house). We found that pupils were largest for words conveying darkness, of intermediate size for neutral words, and smallest for words conveying brightness. This pattern was found for both visually presented and spoken words, which suggests that it was due to the words’ meanings, rather than to visual or auditory properties of the stimuli. Our findings suggest that word meaning is sufficient to trigger a pupillary response, even when this response is not imposed by the experimental task, and even when this response is beyond voluntary control.”

Sebastiaan Mathot, Jonathan Grainger, and Kristof Strijkers.  “Pupillary Responses to Words That Convey a Sense of Brightness or Darkness.”  Psychological Science, in press.

Belkin and Kouchaki set out to learn how the temperature of the place people are in influences how they think and behave.  When they: “analyz[ed] . . . field data from a chain of retail stores in Eastern Europe, we find that, in hot, as opposed to normal temperatures, employees are [50%] less likely to act in a prosocial manner.”  Perceptions of temperatures as uncomfortably warm seem to be responsible for the effects seen.  Prosocial behaviors are acts we voluntarily perform that benefit others, such as making helpful suggestions.  Data collected in other environments by Belkin and Kouchaki, some uncomfortably warm, others comfortable temperatures, revealed a consistent relationship between temperature and helping behavior – higher temperatures, less helping others.  The research team report that “heat increases fatigue that leads to reduction in positive affect [mood] and subsequently reduces individual helping.”

Liuba Belkin and Maryam Kouchaki.  “Exploring the Impact of Ambient Temperature on Helping.”  European Journal of Social Psychology, in press.

Kim and Kim thoroughly researched how seeing art influences decisions made.  They found that “artistic cues [seeing art, paintings by Maritt and Kandinsky] lead participants to . . . . [make] prosocial choice[s].  . . . The central idea of this research is that artistic cues . . . influence consumers’ choice, specifically by promoting acceptance of prosocial appeal over proself appeal.”  Prosocial behaviors are things we voluntarily do that benefit others, such as making charitable donations and recycling.

Dooiee Kim and Sang-Hoon Kim.  “Art Beyond Art’s Sake:  The Influence of Artistic Cues on Prosocial Choice.”  Empirical Studies of the Arts, in press.


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