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Tips : Environment and Behavior

Take a look around you. In all likelihood, there are plenty of distractions. Of course, there are the obvious ones. That annoying bird, the construction going on next door, the constant interruptions from your phone. But there maybe even more than you realize. Perhaps that coffee maker is calling your name? How about the ever-present snack dish? Perhaps your favorite game is just a couple of clicks away. In reality, these factors are more than just distractions. They influence our behavior. So many little things are pulling your attention. The most commanding of these could be those that are subtle and relatively invisible. Our behavior can be nudged by things that seem completely irrelevant on the surface. Environmental psychologists, behaviorists, and cognitive ergonimics researchers are constantly examining possible influences.


Being watched. Hawthorne effect?

A great example involves a case of trivial eyes. Psychologists from the University of Newcastle investigated the real-world application of artificial eyes monitoring a break room “honesty box.” People who took an item from the break area were expected to compensate by contributing the honesty box. But with nobody around to see whether or not ethical procedures were followed, would users dutifully contribute? As you might expect, not everyone did. Throughout the 10 weeks study, researchers alternated between a picture of flowers and a picture of eyes near the honesty box. When the eyes were present, people contributed 2.7 times as much money to the box. The internal motivator for the contribution increase is still being debated, but one thing seems clear. Altering the environment altered behavior.

Fired up!

We have all heard stories of temperature affecting human behavior. For instance, when it is hot out, it is common to see increases in violent crimes. People who are hot seem to be more ready to lash out about just about anything. We even have terms that reflect this. A “hot-head”, or person with a “firey” disposition should be handled with care. Alternately, cold has its reputation. Watch out for a “cold heart”, an “icy stare” or “fridged” personality. But a warm friendship or cold shoulder is one thing. Does environmental temperature have an impact on anything other than social behavior? Researchers from Cornell University examined the performance of insurance agents in varying office temperatures. The study spanned for one month. Initially, the room temperature was set to 68 degrees and climbed to 77 degrees by the end of the study. As the room temperature was dialed up, the number of errors decreased and the total productivity increased by 150%. The theoretical reasoning behind the change was based on the employees' energy expenditure. At lower temperatures, more energy and focus was required to keep warm.

Situational Awareness.

We know distractions can prevent us from achieving our daily goals. Still, we tolerate them. Most people assume that the impact of the environment is minimal. Or perhaps, they assert that they are particularly good at tuning them out. It's understandable to feel this way. It's much easier to believe that we are especially focused when compared to the rest of the population. Admitting these little nagging influences have pull would mean we need to do something about them! Take inventory of your work environment. Pay close attention to variables such as noise level, temperature, light, coworkers, devices(cell phone, etc), even ceiling height. Does your environment aid or inhibit your goals?

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