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4 Ways to Take Better Breaks at Work

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Your aching back or burning eyes may tell you that taking a break from your work is a good idea, but there’s very little research to suggest when, how often, or how long you should break for maximum benefit. To fill this gap in knowledge, two associate professors of management at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business set out to investigate what exactly constituted a “good” work break.  Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu surveyed 95 employees (ages 22 to 67) over a five-day week, and analyzed 959 break surveys. Their results were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. “Everyone knows breaks are helpful, but there’s surprisingly little research on what makes the best break,” Hunter says.

Hunter and Wu defined breaks as “any period of time, formal or informal, during the workday in which work-relevant tasks are not required or expected, including but not limited to a break for lunch, coffee, personal email or socializing with co-workers, not including bathroom breaks.”


Hunter and Wu were surprised by the counterintuitive finding that afternoon is not the ideal time for a break. “We found that workers should take a break mid-morning, before lunch," Hunter tells mental_floss. "Morning breaks were the most effective at restoring resources of all breaks across the day.”

The research says that mental resources like energy, concentration, and motivation are highest in the first half of the day. Rather than waiting until lunch, when you’ve already burned through most of your brain fuel, take a short break mid-morning. Hunter and Wu found that this break brought employees back to their desks refreshed and energized, and with greater ability to endure the rest of the day.

“Your mental resources decline throughout the day,” Hunter says. “So when taking a mid-morning break you’re replenishing a small amount of lost resources better as opposed to afternoon, when it’s harder to get back to your pre-break state.”


Hunter and Wu’s results also turned up an important finding for managers. Structured breaks, or prescribed breaks—in which employees must follow someone else’s rules or expectations—are not as effective as breaks initiated by the employees themselves.

“We tested a number of assumptions, including going outside or doing something of low effort, not using a lot of physical effort, or doing something not work-related,” Hunter says. “None of those things mattered. The only two characteristics of break to replenish energy and reduce symptoms were taking break earlier in the day and doing something you prefer.” They found that the content of the break didn’t matter—whether it was exercise, eating, or simply walking away from one’s desk; what mattered was that it was “something you enjoy and choose to do.” They concluded that managers might see greater productivity and morale if they allowed their employees to take their own breaks. 


The one finding that did not surprise either researcher was the confirmation that breaks are helpful. “They did replenish energy, concentration, and motivation. They decreased symptoms of headaches, eye strain, lower back pain and so on,” Hunter says. They determined that people who took these smaller breaks had higher job satisfaction, more citizenship behavior (helping others, going above and beyond in the workplace), and lower burnout—all important criteria for employers. Hunter feels this is crucial information for managers: “There hasn’t been a lot of research about the effects of breaks besides ergonomics that confirms the notion that they are effective.”


While a lunch break is always a good idea, and there is no magic rule for the perfect number of minutes, Hunter says they did find that “what matters is how many you’re taking.” The study pointed to more frequent short breaks as being most effective at reducing negative effects and boosting mental resources. They also found that those people who take an earlier mid-morning break are more likely to take more breaks in general.

Ultimately, the study suggests that managers institute more flexibility in scheduling breaks, and allow more autonomy to employees to listen to their own cues and break when they need to. For the employee, it might just mean that at the first sign of weariness in the morning, instead of reaching for that second cup of coffee, you just need to step away from your work. 

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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Are Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Really Linked? Researchers Investigate
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Steve Wood/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Around the world, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are said to go hand-in-hand. But do they? As PsyPost reports, a pair of Pennsylvania psychologists recently dove into the empirical evidence tying the three together, asking college students to talk about their drug use, sex lives, and music preferences and talents to suss out whether people who play and enjoy rock music really do have more active sex lives and drug use.

Published in the journal Human Ethnology Bulletin, the study [PDF] of 467 students relied on self-reporting, which isn't typically the most reliable evidence—people are wont to exaggerate how often they've had sex, for instance—but the survey also asked them about their desires, posing questions like "If you could, how frequently would you have sex?" It also asked about how often the students drank and what drugs they had tried in their lifetimes. They also described their musical experience and what kind of music they listened to.

The results were mixed, but the researchers identified a relationship between liking faster, "harder" music and having more sex and doing more drugs. Acoustic indie rock aficionados weren't getting quite as wild as heavy metal fans. High-tempo-music lovers were more likely to have taken hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, for example, and tended to have had more sexual partners in the previous year than people who favored slower types of music. According to the study, previous research has found that attention-seeking people are more likely to enjoy "hard" music.

The study didn't have a diverse enough group either in age or in ethnicity to really begin to make sweeping generalizations about humans, especially since college students (the participants were between 18 and 25) tend to engage in more risky behaviors in general. But this could lay the groundwork for future research into the topic. Until then, it might be more accurate to change the phrase to "sex, drugs, and heavy metal."

[h/t PsyPost]


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