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Want to Feel More Optimistic? Wash Your Hands

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The toughest tasks can often seem far from completion, even after days of working on them—causing stress and anxiety to build. If you're facing a problem like this, consider washing your hands: Researchers have found that people feel more optimistic after doing so.

Kai Kaspar of the University of Osnabrück in Germany asked people to complete an “impossible task.” As expected, everyone bombed the exercise. Half of the subjects were asked to wash their hands, while the other half were not, and each group reported how they felt. While both cohorts admitted to feeling optimistic, those who washed their hands experienced more optimistism.

But all this positive thinking did not lead to more motivation. The subjects who didn’t wash performed better when they attempted the task a second time than those who did. This indicates that cleansing equals some sort of closure—those who had washed felt as if their work was complete.

Kaspar isn’t the first to examine hand washing and mood. Researchers know that when people feel guilty and wash their hands, their guilt lessens—what’s known at the Macbeth effect, named for the Shakespearian murderess who tries easing her conscience with a thorough scrubbing. Experts also found that cleanliness is next to godliness—a nice scrubbing makes people feel more moral.

"I wanted to enlarge this scope to actual cognitive performance because previous literature suggests that washing can remove traces of the past—undesirable or desirable," Kaspar told National Geographic. "Consequently, I asked whether washing can also reboot our optimism after failure and what consequences this would have on subsequent performance." If you want to try it, just make sure to wash for at least 20 seconds. A shorter rinsing doesn’t have the same impact.

But why does hand washing influence mood? A theory known as embodied cognition explains why a motor activity impacts a high order function such as emotions. This theory says that just as the brain controls the body, the body influences the brain. Leaning forward, for example, makes people think of the future, while leaning back causes people to reflect on the past. These physical movements take root in literary symbolism. The ideas attached to cleansing—washing away guilt, bolstering physical and mental health, and improving looks—work their way into how hand washing makes us feel.

Kaspar’s study appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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Tracing Vladimir Nabokov's 1941 Cross-Country Road Trip, One Butterfly at a Time
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Vladimir Nabokov is most famous as a writer, but the Russian scribe was also an amateur—yet surprisingly accomplished—lepidopterist. Nabokov first began collecting butterflies as a child, and after moving to the U.S. in 1940 he began volunteering in the Lepidoptera collections at the American Museum of Natural History.

The following year, the author took a cross-country road trip, driving 4000 miles from Pennsylvania to California. Along the way, he stopped at kitschy roadside motels, which provided atmospheric fodder for his 1955 novel Lolita. Nabokov also collected hundreds of butterfly samples at these rest stops, most of which he ended up donating to the AMNH.

Nabokov would go on to publish multiple scientific papers on lepidoptery—including the definitive scholarly study of the genus Lycaeides, or the “blues”—and produce perhaps thousands of delicate butterfly drawings. Multiple butterfly species were also named after him, including Nabokov’s wood nymph.

In the AMNH’s 360-degree video below, you can trace the author's 1941 cross-country road trip state-by-state, see some of the specimens he collected, and learn how museum curators are using his westward journey to better understand things like species distribution and migration patterns.

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Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design.

Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor.

Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies.

In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.)

Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens.

"The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release.

The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking.

“When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.”

Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure.

[h/t Fast Company]

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