holidayresearch

Management professor Nancy Rothbard argues that for some people, holiday parties can actually be a source of stress. | Courtesy of Kevin Burkett

The holidays might make you think of hot cocoa and cookies more than peer-reviewed papers. But for some Penn professors, American holiday culture is a hotbed for research.

Nancy Rothbard: The Psychology of Holiday Parties

The holiday office party is a fixture at many workplaces; traditionally, researchers — and bosses — have assumed that an end-of-year celebration with food and wine is a way for employees to bond and destress. Management professor Nancy Rothbard argues that for some people, holiday parties can actually be a source of stress.

In her research, Rothbard found that while racially similar employees reported bonding with co-workers over stories about their families or their personal lives, racially dissimilar employees reported the opposite. This goes to show that just putting your employees — or students — together with food and drinks and telling them to socialize isn’t enough to break down boundaries.

Barbara E. Kahn: Smart Design in Retail

For many people the weeks leading up to the holidays are time for gift buying — which can start feeling exhausting, particularly after a round of finals. This means that retailers often have to walk a fine line when setting up their displays. Too much variety can feel overwhelming to customers, but no one wants to shop at a store with too little variety.

Marketing professor Barbara E. Kahn thinks that there’s an easy way for retailers to give the impression of variety without being overwhelming: go horizontal. In a recent paper with Ohio State University professor Xiaoyan Deng, Kahn found that even when the actual items are the same, horizontal displays tend to be perceived as more varied and command more of our attention.

This might seem strange. Who cares if you stack a set of scarves horizontally or vertically? However Kahn thinks it’s because of the horizontal nature of human vision, which prefers to go from side to side.

Katy Milkman: How to Get Your New Years’ Resolutions to Stick

Everyone has had this experience: you wake up Jan. 1 with a bundle of good resolutions in mind, but end up abandoning most of them by the time Feb. 1 rolls around. Operations, Information and Decisions professor Katy Milkman has some advice on how to make better resolutions and how stick to them.

Milkman advocates a technique she calls “temptation bundling,” where unpleasant tasks — like getting a yearly checkup or going to the gym — are attached to pleasant ones. Reward yourself for tasks that you probably should but don’t want to do, like by getting yourself a gingerbread latte every time you go to a review session.

Do find that you’re falling behind on your resolutions? Milkman has a hack for that too. It’s easier for us to change our behavior when we attach it to a temporal landmark, which is why so many people pick January 1 to turn over a new leaf. But you can get a “fresh start” any time of the year, as long as you think it’s an important enough date. Try calling your parents more often starting on your parents’ birthday, or hitting the gym starting February 15.

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