Should playgrounds be made more child friendly?Dr. Sandster and her co-researcher Leif Kennair from Norwegian University of Science and Technology think that offering children opportunities for thrilling experiences through ‘risky play’ helps to ensure they grow up as normal, well-balanced adults. ‘Risky play’ provides kids with a safer situation to learn about dangers than real life. For example, playing at heights can provide kids with the motor skills and perceptual competencies to better navigate heights as they mature. Instead of short climbing walls, there should be towering monkey bars. Instead of plastic crawl tubes, there should be tall, steep slides. And balance beams. And rope swings.

They say the rationale is that the more we shield children from potential scrapes and sprained ankles, the more unprepared they’ll be for real risk as adults, and the less aware they’ll be of their surroundings.

Kids need places to work out their fears, they say, and challenging playgrounds can provide the perfect opportunity for such growth. They argue that modern society has an exaggerated focus on child safety, at the expense of kids’ needs to figure out their personal limits. (You can read the original article here.)

We’re all for children being exposed to a controlled degree of risk, not for the sake of being risky, but because its fun, challenging and makes them learn and grow. But at the same time we must ensure that our playgrounds don’t become risky because of being designed and maintained poorly.

Illustration by Mayur Teckchandaney

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Its all about the food, bugger

Want your meeting to go well? Want to get that much needed approval from your client in that meeting? Want the participants at your workshop to be in a good mood? Want your wedding reception to be remembered?

You got it. Serve good food.

To understand how food can make you happy, it’s important to understand how the brain regulates mood. The brain uses neurotransmitters as communication signals to communicate with the rest of your body and to issue its commands. Typically, serotonin is the neurotransmitter most linked to happiness. Foods that aid serotonin production include fish, chicken, cheese, spinach and bananas.

While some foods have been proven to physically affect your brain chemistry, others make us feel good just by eating them. These are Comfort Foods.

Psychological studies have turned up evidence that the comfort foods we crave are actually artifacts from our pasts . We all have memories of happier times, and by eating foods that remind us of those times, we symbolically consume that past happiness. Comfort foods can also be linked to specific people in our lives: Eating a specific food that a loved one favored can produce happy thoughts by triggering fond memories or associations of that person . This makes comfort foods fairly unique to each individual. If your childhood birthday parties represented the pinnacle of happiness for you, you’d likely crave birthday cake or some variation of the dessert when you’re feeling the blues.

Although comfort foods (or the events attached to them) vary from person to person, the foods we associate with comforting or happy emotions vary by gender, as well. A 2005 Cornell University survey of 277 men and women found that females tend to seek comfort in sweet and sugary foods like ice cream, while males prefer savory comfort foods like steak .

So know the food that leads to happiness and know the likes of whom you are serving to.  Foods’ the reason for Laughing Buddha’s happiness and could well be the reason for your happiness too.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

if you're good at math, consider yourself blessed

I struggled all my studying years with MATH (Mental Abuse to Humans). I was so bad at math that I had even developed a method of memorizing patterns to solve problems, so that I could apply them in case a similar question came up in the exam paper. If you were and are good at math, I have very high regards for you, because most of the human race is simply bad at it.

Consider these two promotions. One is a flat ‘33% off’ on the MRP. The other is 33% more quantity of the product free. In short – ‘33% extra free’. Are both similar? Which one seems more attractive to you?

If both are similar in terms of a proposition to you, but you still prefer ‘33% extra free’, you’re in the majority. In a study, Akshay Rao, the General Mills Chair in Marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, asked undergraduate students to evaluate two deals on loose coffee beans — one with 33% more beans for free, the other at 33% off the price. All the participants chose ‘33% extra free’, inspite of ‘33% off’ being a quantitatively bigger and better offer favouring the customer. (33% off = 50% extra free)

The reason why we opt for ‘33% extra free’ is not just that we suck at math, but we are also infatuated with the idea of getting something for free. It seems as if the power of ‘free’ makes us worse at math.

Now, how you take advantage of this will depend on whether you are a consumer or a marketer.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Playing musical chairs improves creativity

There are two schools of thought relating to group dynamics and creativity. One believes in keeping teams constant, believing that the comfort of the team members with each other, makes it easier for them to come up with creative ideas. In contrast, the other school of thought is that mixing team members generates new patterns of thinking.

To find out which one really works, Charlan Nemeth and Margaret Ormiston from University of California conducted a test. Groups of people were asked to think of new ways of solving real problems like boosting tourism in San Francisco bay area. Then team members of half of those groups were kept constant, whereas the other half of the groups had their team members mixed to form new teams. Those that remained together rated their groups as friendlier and more creative. However from the perspective of creativity, the newly formed groups generated significantly more ideas, and those ideas were judged to be more creative.

In another study conducted by Hoon-Seok Choi and Leigh Thompson, three-person groups were asked to think of as many uses as possible for a cardboard box. Then team members of half of those groups were kept constant, and changed just one person in the other half of the groups. When asked to repeat the cardboard box task, analyses showed that the newcomer had helped increase the creativity of the two original team members.

With respect to group creativity, the message is clear: play musical chairs.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Is it true that we use only 10% of our brainpower?

Despite how common the belief is, it’s not true.

Neurologist Barry Gordon describes the myth as laughably false, adding, “we use virtually every part of the brain, and that most of the brain is active almost all the time”.Neuroscientist Barry Beyerstein sets out evidence refuting the 10% myth:

  • Studies of brain damage: If 90% of the brain is normally unused, then damage to these areas should not impair performance. Instead, there is almost no area of the brain that can be damaged without loss of abilities. Even slight damage to small areas of the brain can have profound effects.
  • Evolution: The brain is enormously costly to the rest of the body, in terms of oxygen and nutrient consumption. It can require up to 20% of the body’s energy—more than any other organ—despite making up only 2% of the human body by weight. If 90% of it were unnecessary, there would be a large survival advantage to humans with smaller, more efficient brains. If this were true, the process of natural selection would have eliminated the inefficient brains. By the same token, it is also highly unlikely that a brain with so much redundant matter would have evolved in the first place.
  • Brain imaging: Technologies such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allow the activity of the living brain to be monitored. They reveal that even during sleep, all parts of the brain show some level of activity. Only in the case of serious damage does a brain have “silent” areas.
  • Localization of function: Rather than acting as a single mass, the brain has distinct regions for different kinds of information processing. Decades of research have gone into mapping functions onto areas of the brain, and no function-less areas have been found.
  • Microstructural analysis: In the single-unit recording technique, researchers insert a tiny electrode into the brain to monitor the activity of a single cell. If 90% of cells were unused, then this technique would have revealed that.
  • Neural disease: Brain cells that are not used have a tendency to degenerate. Hence if 90% of the brain were inactive, autopsy of adult brains would reveal large-scale degeneration.

I was just in the mood for some myth-busting. This ain’t meant to say that we don’t have the potential to do more than we currently do. If you think you can do it, you can.

Via 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior

Illustration by M____ T____________

Shaken, not stirred and Tall, not short

How many?

Many people attempt to diet, but a few also attempt to cut down on their drinking habit at some point in life. However, majority fail, often blaming it on a lack of motivation.

What we found here is an interesting factor at work, which could help reduce the intake of alcohol.

In an experiment, Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum from Cornell University asked students to pour a single shot of whiskey from a full bottle into a glass. Those given a short, wide glass poured, on average, 30% larger shots than those given a taller, narrower glass. This happened because we use the depth of the liquid as an indication of the amount of liquid in the glass, not noticing that one glass was far wider than the other. These researchers then repeated the experiment with experienced bartenders and discovered that they poured, on average, 20% larger shots into the short, wide glass.

So if you want to reduce your drinking, stay away from short, wide glasses, and stick to tall, narrow ones. But of course, if you want to get drunk faster or get someone else drunk faster, use short, wide glasses.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

 

The Power of Scent

We usually use scents (perfumes) to feel fresh, confident, smell good and to attract the opposite sex (well, same sex in some cases). But scents can have uses beyond our imagination. Here’s one brilliant way, designers at Rodd Design and The Olfactory Experience have used the power of scent.

They’ve created a product called Ode. Ode is a product that releases authentic, high-quality food aromas at particular times in the day to help stimulate appetite and rekindle an interest in eating – discreetly and unobtrusively.

Ode has been created as part of Design Council and Department of Health’s design challenge program ‘Living well with Dementia’. It’s a project to find new solutions for the people of UK that have been diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is a decline of mental abilities such as thinking, reasoning and memory. Dementia usually occurs in older age. It is serious enough to diminish everyday functions in a person’s life such as driving, everyday duties like personal hygiene, dressing, and feeding.

Weight loss is common to most people with late-stage dementia and can be an early indicator of the condition’s onset. Ode is a discreet system that is less stigmatizing and more inspiring than an alarm or constant reminders to eat. Initial research suggests it can stimulate real hunger subliminally.

Fragrances are released in short sharp bursts, acting as a strong appetite trigger and then dissipating rapidly so users won’t become inured to the effect. A subtle light indicates the device is working and also communicates when fragrances need refilling.

Ode is a beautiful and subliminal way of changing behaviour. It can have implications much beyond the application of stimulating hunger amongst people with dementia. It can be used by hospitals to stimulate appetite amongst various kinds of patients or by spas to improve relaxation or by offices to promote alertness. The possibilities are endless. What applications come to your mind?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Goddess of magic can save you fuelRemember being told by a kid in an ad sometime back, to switch our cars off at signals, because saving fuel meant saving money? If you didn’t, crores of tax payers money (in India), in the form of TV, radio, outdoor advertising went down the drain. Ok, so you are one of the few who do recall this message. Have you changed your behaviour? Do you now switch off your car at traffic signals? Does your driver do it? Have you asked your driver to do it? Ever?

Most of us don’t. It’s too much effort. You would first need to switch the AC off and then turn the ignition switch off, to turn the engine off. And when the signal turns green, you gotta turn the ignition key on, get frantically honked at (we’re talking India remember), change the gear from neutral to first, get frantically honked at again, put the hand brake down, and finally get moving. Oh yes, turn the AC on again. Even if you are highly eco-conscious or highly stingy, it’s still too much effort.

Here comes the Goddess of Magic. Isis, the Greek Goddess of Magic, is the inspiration behind the name of an innovative automobile product called, the same in capital letters – ISIS – Intelligent Stop Immediate Start!

Intelligent Stop Immediate Start (ISIS) is a device, which if fitted inside your car, can save you anywhere between Rs. 500 – Rs. 2,500 for every Rs. 10,000 you spend on fuel. The way it works is that when your car comes to a halt at a traffic signal or while in stop-and-go traffic, and you put the car in neutral, ISIS switches the engine off automatically. To start the engine back, you simply have to press the clutch. No additional effort required. Solutions made keeping in mind that humans are built lazy, work well.

What about the AC you must be wondering. ISIS comes with a built-in sensor, which detects even a minor drop in cabin temperature. If ISIS detects a drop in temperature beyond what is set by the driver, it restarts the engine automatically. As per tests conducted, the cabin temperature remains constant for about 1-2 minutes when the engine is switched off. Most signals restart, within 60 seconds in any case. And if you wish to start the engine/AC at any time, you simply need to press the clutch and the engine with the AC starts again.

One more benefit of the Goddess of Magic, besides saving fuel and money – the reduction in particulate matter, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide – the stuff that’s weakening our lungs.

ISIS has been developed by Indent – Dhruv Chaudhry’s company. Indent is an auto research and development company, which focuses on creating innovative auto products that, benefit the environment and improve safety. To know more about ISIS click here.

Our advice to the PCRA (Petroleum Conservation Research Association) and Mr. S. Jaipal Reddy, (Union Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas, India) – instead of spending crores on building awareness for saving fuel via advertising, change actual behaviour by promoting products like ISIS and help India save trillions worth of fuel.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

The way you make me move

 

This is a story from my days at Lowe Lintas. We were invited to make a communication pitch for Reliance Fresh. So I flew the next day to Hyderabad to Reliance Fresh’s first retail outlet at Banjara Hills. The newly opened swanky 3,500 sq. ft. store was a wide store with two openings – one for entry and the other for exit. But the entry to the store was on the right hand side and the exit on the left hand side. Which meant that people had to move inside the store in an anti-clockwise direction. What I saw inside the store was chaos. Not the kind we see everyday in the vegetable markets in Mumbai. It was different. There were mostly women in the store at that point in time. And they were walking around like zombies. Something had gone terribly wrong, but none had figured what was going on. Women kept going back and forth as if they had forgotten that the only way was to move forward. But I don’t blame the women, well at least not this time.

If you stay in India, I’m sure you’ve visualized what had gone wrong. Because we in India drive on the left hand side of the road, we write from left to right, we have gotten used to the habit of moving from the left to the right. As far as the store was concerned, the same principle applied too – enter, move in a clockwise direction from left to right. But it wasn’t the case for the American consultant who designed the store for Reliance Fresh!

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

My idea is better than yours

Lets be honest, each one of us believes that our ideas are the best. We fall in love with our own ideas so deeply that most of the times we’re open to any solution, as long as it’s ours. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality calls it ‘The Not-Invented-Here bias’.

‘The Not-Invented-Here Bias’ is basically this: ‘If I (or we) didn’t invent it, then it’s not worth much.’

One may argue that it is good to be attached to our ideas as it could motivate us and create a higher level of commitment. But it comes with its side effects. One example is of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb. He fell hard for direct current (DC) electricity. At that point in time Nikola Tesla developed alternating current (AC) electricity under the supervision of Edison, but Edison dismissed Tesla’s ideas as ‘splendid, but utterly impractical’.  Despite all of Edison’s efforts to foil it, AC eventually prevailed.

Sony is another example. Sony invented the transistor radio, the Walkman, the Trinitron Tube and many other successful inventions. But after a series of successful ones, Sony engineers began suffering from ‘The Not-Invented-Here Bias’. If something wasn’t invented at Sony, the engineers wanted nothing to do with it. iPod and Xbox were ‘outside’ ideas and therefore not considered as good as Sony’s ideas. We all know the consequences.

Acronyms (OAT, ECT, BCT, etc) that blossom inside companies are another example. Dan Ariely says ‘though they are a shorthand to talk about an idea, they confer a kind of secret insider knowledge. They tend to increase the perceived importance of the idea, and at the same time they keep other ideas from entering the inner circle.’

But like many findings in behavioural economics, this too, can be made useful. One example of its usefulness can be demonstrated in how Pillsbury made its instant cake mixes. When instant mixes were introduced in the US years back, housewives had to simply add water to make the cake. The mixes didn’t go down too well with housewives. So Pillsbury left out the dried eggs and required women to add fresh ones, along with milk and oil, to the mix and the sales took off. For housewives, adding eggs and other ingredients, gave a sense of ownership and pride and made them feel it was made by them. I’m sure each one also felt that their cake was better than the ones made by others.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

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