Why Popcorn Tastes Better when You eat it with Chopsticks


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3 research-based ways to maximize the fun of leisure activities

You can’t schedule enjoyable events like you do work

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Everyone’s so busy these days that it is easy to think you need to schedule time to have fun.

But be careful about how you do that, said Selin Malkoc, a time management expert at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

Research shows that scheduling can undermine enjoyment if it is not done right, according to Malkoc, an associate professor of marketing.

In an invited article in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology, she and Gabriela Tonietto of Rutgers Business School evaluated recent research that shows how people can find time for leisure and still keep it fun.

They recommended three keys:

Schedule more roughly. In a study they published last year, Malkoc and Tonietto found that scheduling leisure activities makes them less fun because the strict beginning and end times disrupted their free-flowing nature.

“The minute you put limits on a fun activity, you’re robbing yourself of some of the enjoyment,” she said.

Malkoc recommends that if you have to schedule leisure, do it only roughly. Say you’ll do it “after work” rather than “at 6 p.m.” Allowing a little wiggle room alleviates the restriction one feels.

Avoid hard stops. Don’t schedule something to do immediately after a leisure activity – even if it is another enjoyable event.

“You’re always looking at the clock and feel like you have less time to enjoy the first activity. You are dreading the fun ending and having to do the next thing on your schedule,” she said.

In one study, for example, participants expected a desirable activity (a massage) would be less enjoyable if it occurred before another scheduled activity (meeting friends).

Focus on the now. Even when there is no time pressure, the mere knowledge of upcoming activities may lessen your enjoyment of what you’re doing now.

“Your mind wanders to the next event,” Malkoc said. “What you’re doing now can be seen as just a way to get to the next activity, and not as fun in itself.”

For instance, participants in one study enjoyed a comedic video less when they knew they would watch another enjoyable video, compared to those who didn’t know what they were doing afterward.

“The key to enjoying your leisure activities is to live in the moment as much as possible. Be spontaneous and don’t live by the calendar,” she said.

Written by Jeff Grabmeier

Why popcorn tastes better when you eat it with chopsticks

Study: Being unconventional makes experiences feel brand new

COLUMBUS, Ohio – If you are not enjoying your favorite things as much as you used to, new research suggests a way to break through the boredom: Try the same old things in new ways.

Researchers found that people found new enjoyment in popcorn, videos – even water – when they consumed them in unconventional ways.

Findings suggested that using unconventional consumption methods helped people focus on what they enjoyed about the product in the first place, said Robert Smith, co-author of the study and assistant professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

“When you eat popcorn with chopsticks, you pay more attention and you are more immersed in the experience,” Smith said.

“It’s like eating popcorn for the first time.”

This phenomenon may explain such things as the popularity of “pitch black” restaurants that serve diners in the dark.

“It may not be anything special about darkness that makes us enjoy food more. It may be the mere fact that dining in the dark is unusual,” Smith said.

Smith conducted the study with Ed O’Brien of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. The results appear online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The researchers conducted four experiments.

In one study, 68 people came to a laboratory supposedly for an experiment about “helping people eat more slowly.” Half the people ate 10 kernels of popcorn using their hands, one at a time. The other half ate the kernels one at a time with chopsticks.

Afterward, participants rated the experience on a variety of measures, including how much they enjoyed the popcorn, how flavorful it was and how much fun it was to eat it.

Results showed that people who ate the popcorn using chopsticks reported enjoying it more than those who used their hands, Smith said.

Another finding suggested why that might be.

Those who used chopsticks – compared to those who ate with their hands – reported that they felt more immersed in the experience, that it helped intensify the taste and helped them focus on the food.

But the researchers then had the participants repeat the experiment. In this second trial, everyone enjoyed the popcorn equally and felt equally immersed, regardless of how they ate it.

“This suggests chopsticks boost enjoyment because they provide an unusual first-time experience, not because they are a better way to eat popcorn,” Smith said.

A second study of 300 participants recruited online found that even drinking water was rated as more enjoyable when it was done in novel ways. In this study, participants came up with their own “fresh, new and fun” ways to drink water – everything from drinking out of a martini glass to drinking out of a shipping envelope to lapping at the water with their tongue like a cat.

Those who drank water in these novel ways enjoyed it more than those who drank it normally.

In the final two studies – one conducted in a lab and one done online – participants watched a one-minute video three times in a row. The video showed an exciting motorcycle ride filmed with a GoPro camera from the driver’s perspective.

All participants watched it twice normally, rating how much they enjoyed it after each viewing.

But the third viewing was different for some participants.

One-third were asked to watch the videos using “hand-goggles” – forming circles with their thumbs and index fingers around their eyes, and using them to track the ride by bobbing their head back and forth to follow the cyclist.

For another third of the participants, the video was flipped upside down. The final third watched the video in the conventional way.

As expected, those who watched the video in the conventional way showed less enjoyment by the third viewing. Those who watched the video upside down didn’t enjoy it very much because, even though the viewing was unconventional, it was also disruptive.

However, those who watched the video for the third time with hand-goggles enjoyed it more than the other groups.

But did participants really enjoy the video more – or did they just like the strange experience of using hand-goggles? Results suggest the unconventional way of watching really did make the video itself more enjoyable.

After the study, the researchers offered to let all participants download the video to keep – and three times more people who watched with hand-goggles asked to download the video than those in the other conditions.

“They actually thought the video was better because the hand-goggles got them to pay more attention to what they were watching than they would have otherwise,” he said. “They were more immersed in the video.”

Smith said these findings apply in a variety of ways to everyday life.

For example, when you’re eating pizza, after eating one slice normally, you could try eating one slice with a knife and fork and then folding the next slice.

And if you’re sick of your sofa, try putting it in another room rather than getting rid of it.

“It may be easier to make it feel new than you might think. It is also a lot less wasteful to find new ways to enjoy the things we have rather than buying new things,” he said.

Written by Jeff Grabmeier

Methane-producing microbial communities found in fracking wells

Study implications extend to human health, extraterrestrial life, researchers say

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Deep in the rocky earth, in the liquid-filled cracks created by fracking, lives a community of highly interactive microbes – one that could at once have serious implications for energy companies, human health and scientists investigating the potential for life on Mars.

New research has uncovered the genetic details of microbes found in fracking wells. Not only do a wide array of bacteria and viruses thrive in these crevices created by hydraulic fracturing – they also have the power to produce methane, according to a study led by scientists at The Ohio State University and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That means it’s possible that the tiny life forms could create more energy – and from a different source – than the fracking companies are going after in the first place.

On the other hand, the microbes found in samples from wells in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania could point to potential problems from an industry standpoint – they could prove corrosive, toxic or otherwise problematic, said the study’s lead author, Kelly Wrighton, an assistant professor of microbiology at Ohio State.

“Energy companies spend a lot of money and resources trying to get rid of life in these systems,” she said.

Hydraulic fracturing involves forcing open fissures in rocks deep in the earth by introducing high-pressure liquid and other components, including sand and chemicals, to extract oil or gas. Chemicals, stabilizers and water injected into the wells is undoubtedly contributing to the microbial diversity within them, the researchers said.

This was the first study to look at microbes from multiple sites in a controlled environment, and presented a rare scientific opportunity, said study co-author Michael Wilkins, an assistant professor of earth sciences at Ohio State.

“These wells are so deep and hard to sample – access to the liquid in the wells offered us a unique opportunity to understand how these microbes make a living in these briny, high-pressure, high-temperature conditions,” Wilkins said.

The findings detailed in the study will inform the fracking industry, environmentalists and others. But they also have potential implications much farther from home.

“Finding life in these rocky, salty, hard-to-survive conditions would not be dissimilar to finding life on another planet,” said Wrighton, who recently applied for a NASA grant relative to that pursuit.

“If we want to think about what life would be like if it could exist on Mars, this is probably a pretty good place to start.”

Previous studies of fracking wells had documented the presence of some microbes and highlighted their ability to make methane, but didn’t offer detailed information about how complex the communities are and how they interact, said study co-author Mikayla Borton, an environmental science graduate student in Wrighton’s lab.

Those answers came from taking 40 samples from five fracking wells into the lab, manipulating the environment to “draw out” microbes that wouldn’t have been identified in a basic field experiment and conducting genomic analyses.

The researchers also added a compound called glycine betaine to the samples and tracked gas release over time, confirming that, when prompted, the microbes produced methane.

“It’s really important to know what these organisms can do – to grasp their genomic potential and metabolic interactions – and figure out what impact that might have on the ecosystem,” Borton said.

“We found here that multiple wells have similar microorganisms, which are capable of producing methane. In theory, that could mean that stimulating the microbial community in some way could increase energy yields. That’s not been done in shale yet, but it’s done in other systems, including in coal mining,” she said.

Furthermore, the microbes found in the fracking mines have parallels with microbes found in other protein-rich ecosystems, including the human gut and soil, Borton said.

“What we learn about these fracking microbes could have the potential to help answer questions about human health – including how plaque forms in our arteries when we have cardiovascular disease,” she said.

The study was a collaboration between Ohio State and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Environmental Molecular Science Laboratory and Joint Genome Institute. Other Ohio State researchers who worked on the study were Rebecca Daly, Susan Welch, Julie Sheets, David Morgan and David Cole.

The research was supported by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Written by Misti Crane

Looking to mosquitoes for a way to develop painless microneedles

Research finds four keys to piercing skin without hurting

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A mosquito can insert a needle-like probe into your skin and draw blood for several minutes without you even noticing.

Researchers at The Ohio State University believe we can learn from nature’s design of the mosquito to create a painless microneedle for medical purposes.

“Mosquitoes must be doing something right if they can pierce our skin and draw blood without causing pain,” said Bharat Bhushan, Ohio Eminent Scholar and Howard D. Winbigler Professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State.

“We can use what we have learned from mosquitoes as a starting point to create a better microneedle.”

In a recently published paper, Bhushan and his colleagues reported on their detailed analysis of the mosquito’s proboscis – the part that feeds on us. They identified four keys to how the insects pierce us without pain: use of a numbing agent; a serrated design to the “needle”; vibration during the piercing; and a combination of soft and hard parts on the proboscis.

“We can incorporate all of these elements into a microneedle design,” Bhushan said. “Right now, needles are very simple. There hasn’t been much innovation and we think there’s a way to try something different.”

The study was jointly led by Bhushan and Navin Kumar, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Ropar. Ohio State doctoral student Dev Guerra is also a co-author. Their results are published online in the Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials.

Bhushan has long used nature as a guide to creating better products, including high-tech surfaces inspired by butterfly wings and better fake leather and waterproof coatings inspired by plants.

For this study, the researchers extensively reviewed work already done by entomologists about mosquitoes, but with a particular focus.

“We used our engineering background to characterize the parts of the mosquito to figure out how they may contribute to painless piercing,” he said.

In addition, the researchers analyzed the outer cover of the proboscis, called the labrum, on female Aedes vexan mosquitoes, which is the most common mosquito in North America.

They used a technique called nanoindentation to probe how hard and stiff the tip of the labrum was in seven different places. They found that the labrum was softest near the tip and edges and became stiffer and harder farther in and up the labrum.

“This is important because a softer and more compliant tip may cause less pain when it pierces the skin because it deforms the skin less,” Bhushan said.

That was one of the four keys to painless piercing, according to the researchers. They identified the other three through their analysis of existing studies.

Another key is the fact that the part of the proboscis that actually draws blood – called the fascicle – has a serrated design, like a saw. That may sound painful, but it is helpful because it makes for easier insertion. The fascicle also vibrates as it is inserted, which also helps lessen the force needed to pierce skin.

Other research has shown that mosquitoes use an insertion force that is three times lower than the lowest reported insertion force for an artificial needle, which could be the result of the vibration and serrated design, Bhushan said.

The final key to pain-free piercing is the mosquito’s use of a numbing agent. Once the proboscis is inserted, the insect releases saliva, which contains a protein that lessens pain.

Based on these findings, Bhushan envisions a microneedle with two needles inside. One would immediately inject a numbing agent. The second needle would draw the blood or inject the drug. This second needle, like the fascicle of the mosquito, would have a serrated design and be most flexible and softer at the tip and sides. It would also vibrate as it is inserted.

Bhushan said that a microneedle like this would be more expensive than a traditional needle and probably could not be used for such needs as pumping intravenous fluids or drawing a large amount of blood.

But it could be useful for children or adults who are particularly phobic about the use of needles.

“We have the materials and knowledge to create a microneedle like this,” Bhushan said. “The next step is to find the funding support to create and test such a device.”

Written by Jeff Grabmeier

In surveys, people say they’ll pay twice what they’re actually willing to spend

‘Hypothetical bias’ study finds big gap between speculation and reality

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Perhaps people like to think of themselves as big spenders. Or maybe they just aren’t very honest.

But when researchers compared what study participants reported they were willing to spend on goods with what they actually shelled out in experiments designed to mimic a real-world shopping experience, there was a big gap.

“People said they’d spend about twice as much, on average, as they actually spent when faced with more realistic circumstances,” said co-lead researcher Wuyang Hu of The Ohio State University.

Asking people to estimate how much they’d spend on a good or service is a key part of economics research and the results can drive decision making by business, government leaders and others, said Hu, a professor of agricultural, environmental, and development economics at Ohio State.

“Unfortunately, in many circumstances, it’s extremely difficult to observe people’s actual behavior, so we have to use these hypothetical, made-up scenarios,” Hu said. “The problem is, we know that what people say they will spend and what they actually spend don’t always line up.”

The difference between these two amounts is called “hypothetical bias” and it stands in the way of research that can shape important decisions, like evaluating the worth of cleaning up after an environmental catastrophe, Hu said. In fact, the whole notion of this phenomenon came about after the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill, when lawyers grappled with arriving at the cost of work to soak up the oil and protect animals, plants and natural resources in Alaska.

Hu and his co-author, Jerrod Penn of Louisiana State University, wanted to better understand the discrepancy between what people report they’ll pay and what they’ll actually pay. To do that, they reviewed and summarized results found in previous studies, either published or not. They looked at more than 500 articles and chose 132 studies that included hypothetical questions and an attempt to create a real-life spending experience – such as a classroom set up to look like a store in which study participants had actual money to spend. The study appears in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

Overall, the difference between hypothetical spending and real spending was almost twofold. Hu stressed that even this could be an underestimate, given that the “real” spending observations are done under circumstances that attempt to mimic real life.

“Sometimes people are aware they’re being observed. Sometimes they have no idea. But it’s not really a grocery store or a conservation group’s office where you’re making an actual donation. It’s an experiment, so we take those so-called ‘real’ spending observations with a grain of salt as well,” Hu said.

Somewhat surprisingly, the researchers found that student study participants were not less reliable than others – a trend that has emerged in other research, and led to concerns about the validity of economics research that relies largely on college students’ feedback about spending.

“Some people have reached the conclusion that because students don’t have much money to spend in real life, they tend to overstate what they’d spend, but we didn’t find that,” Hu said.

The researchers also found evidence that three common techniques designed to mitigate bias were effective: “cheap talk,” certainty follow-up and consequentiality.

Researchers who use the cheap talk approach explicitly address the issue to study subjects, acknowledging that people often claim on surveys that they’ll spend more than they would actually spend in real life. Researchers then tell them not to do that. Cheap talk techniques reduced differences by 41 percent, the researchers found.

Certainty follow-up involves asking the study participant to rate his or her level of certainty about a given survey response and this method reduced differences by 99 percent.

Consequentiality is when researchers emphasize the importance and value of the survey participants’ honest responses. This approach reduced differences between hypothetical and real spending by 95 percent.

Penn, an assistant professor of resource economics at Louisiana State, said the evidence in favor of cheap talk and other efforts to mitigate hypothetical bias is important – especially because some previous studies have cast doubt on the usefulness of such techniques.

“This means that exploring and testing new mitigation methods and how methods can complement each other continues to be a valuable avenue of future research,” Penn said.

Hu said he hopes this robust meta-analysis of prior research will lead to improved techniques for factoring in this hypothetical bias or designing studies that do a better job of reducing it.

“Researchers will benefit from having more information about adjusting their results upward or downward to come closer to the truth about how much people will spend,” Hu said.

He said he’d like to develop an app that researchers could use to estimate the impact of hypothetical bias based on the nature of their study, the participants and whether the good or service being studied is public or private.

“Hypothetical bias is really the tip of the iceberg in the entire human behavior puzzle that everyone’s trying to crack in economics. Hopefully this brings us a little bit closer to the truth,” Hu said.

Written by Misti Crane

Keenan Family Foundation establishes Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship at The Ohio State University

June 25, 2018

$17M will provide generations of future leaders with critical skills, experiences and insights

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Keenan Family Foundation has made a $17 million commitment to The Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business, strengthening the university’s expertise in the field of entrepreneurship. The Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship will focus on cultivating students’ entrepreneurial skill sets and create an enriched extracurricular experience around entrepreneurship. The students will be connected to the startup ecosystem in central Ohio and beyond.

“Kathleen and I have dedicated our philanthropic lives to the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem to help regions of the country that need new job development,” Tim Keenan said. “Our first endeavor was in upstate and central New York and now we have focused on the Midwest. We are excited to partner with The Ohio State University and Fisher College of Business to position the university as a thought leader and focal point of action for the Midwest and the nation as a whole.

“We are confident that the talented students of Ohio State, combined with the faculty and staff, will position the Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship as an impact leader across all industries, and that it will be a driving contributor to job creation in Ohio and the nation.”

“The Tim and Kathleen Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship is a remarkable resource for our students as well as Ohio’s rapidly growing start-up ecosystem,” said Ohio State President Michael V. Drake. “Their inspiring gift honors Buckeye Nation’s proud entrepreneurial legacy, while laying the educational foundation for tomorrow’s business leaders. I am truly grateful to Tim and Kathleen for their longstanding service and generosity to Ohio State.”

Pending approval by Ohio State’s Board of Trustees, The Ohio State University Tim and Kathleen Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship will provide generations of future leaders with the capabilities to turn ideas into action.

“We are honored that Tim and Kathleen have entrusted Fisher College of Business and Ohio State to equip and empower our students and thought leaders with the skills, experiences and insights to produce the next great breakthrough, technology or process,” said Anil K. Makhija, dean and John W. Berry, Sr. Chair in Business at Fisher. “We look forward to working with the Keenans to carry out our shared vision for this exciting new chapter in how we create and foster entrepreneurially spirited leaders.”

The Keenan Family Foundation was established by Tim (BS ’80) and Kathleen Keenan in 2012. Tim Keenan is currently the CEO of Keenan & Associates, a company that works with small- to mid-sized organizations to provide direction and guidance with strategic planning and development. He also serves as the vice president and treasurer of the Keenan Family Foundation. In addition to making one of the largest commitments recorded at Fisher, Tim Keenan is a longtime member of the college’s Dean’s Advisory Council, served as an adviser to The Ohio State Office of Research in advancing the Ohio Technology Consortium and is a life member of The Ohio State University Alumni Association.

About The Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business

The Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business provides tomorrow’s business leaders with the foundation needed to succeed in business today. Led by world-class faculty, Fisher students experience an academically rigorous learning environment that fosters the development of an entrepreneurial spirit, global awareness and principled leadership skills. Organizations from around the globe thrive under the leadership of Fisher alumni, who are positively impacting their communities and the world.

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