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Doing things differently rekindles pleasure
July 24, 2018, 11:08 am

The old phrase ‘Same old same old’, and its more modern acronym ‘SOMO’ among the Twitterati crowd, in reference to something that remains the same, especially when it is boring, takes on a whole new meaning in light of recent research. Over time many of us find the same routine or situation in our daily life becoming boring or tiring, whether it is our job, daily commute or something more mundane as the furniture at home or the foods we eat. One way to regain pleasure from the activities we once enjoyed and help shake us out of a sense of complacency, is to try doing it differently, says researchers at the University of Ohio and the University of Chicago, at the end of their study on the subject.

The scientists base their conclusions on the findings of several experiments that they conducted, and which assessed different activities, including individual eating and drinking habits, as well as social activities. In one experiment, the researchers worked with 68 people who were told that they would be taking part in a project about “helping people eat more slowly.” Half of the volunteers were asked to eat 10 pieces of popcorn using their hands, while the rest of the participants ate the same number of popcorn pieces but using chopsticks to pick them up.

At the end of the experiment, all of the participants were asked to rate how much they had enjoyed eating the popcorn, as well as how flavorful they thought it was and how much fun they had had eating it. It turned out that the chopstick-wielding eaters found the experience more enjoyable than their counterparts, who tackled the snacks in the normal way. The clues to this enjoyment was found in the report filed by individual participants. The chopstick users believed that the unusual technique allowed them to feel more focused on the eating and therefore more appreciative of the taste. “When you eat popcorn with chopsticks,” one wrote, “you pay more attention and you are more immersed in the experience.

It’s like eating popcorn for the first time.” When the researchers repeated the experiment, though, all the participants seemed to enjoy the popcorn just as much, no matter how they ate the snack. The researchers content that this could be because, “chopsticks boost enjoyment as they provide an unusual first-time experience, not because they provide a better way to eat popcorn.” In another experiment, the team worked with 300 participants, asking them to rate their experience of drinking water when they drank it the way they normally would versus when they had it in a “fresh, new, and fun” manner of their own invention.

The researchers discovered that the participants who drank water in unusual ways — from a wine glass, for instance, or from an envelope, or even lapping it up like a cat — said that they enjoyed it more than those who stuck to a normal water-drinking method. The research team also conducted another experiment that involved asking some volunteers to watch a very short video three times in a row. In the first two viewings, all the volunteers watched the video in a regular way twice in a row, rating their enjoyment in each instance. For the final viewing, a third of the study participants were instructed to watch the clip using ‘hand goggles’, which involved forming ‘lenses’ with their thumbs and index fingers. They were also asked to simulate a first-person experience by all moving their heads in unison with the movements of the motorcycle.

Another third of the group watched the video flipped upside down, and the remaining participants watched it in a normal way for the third time in a row. Participants who watched the clip through ‘hand goggles’ rated their enjoyment the highest, while those who watched it in the conventional way reported having lost interest in it by the third viewing.

Those who watched the video flipped upside down said that they had not enjoyed it very much — while this type of viewing was unusual, the researchers note, it was also uncomfortable, which explains their lack of enthusiasm. To confirm that those who used ‘hand goggles’ had a higher enjoyment of the video itself — not just of the funny experience — the scientists told all the volunteers at the end of the experiment that they could download the clip and keep it, if they wanted to. Three times as many people who had watched the clip through ‘hand goggles’ downloaded it as participants who had viewed it in other ways.

The ‘hand goggle’ viewers felt that the video was better because they got to pay more attention to what they were watching and were more immersed in what they were doing than they would have otherwise, concluded the researchers. The study shows that it may be easier to feel pleasure from an activity that was becoming stale by doing it differently. Trying something differently is also a whole lot better, and definitely less wasteful, than buying new things to replace a lost sense of pleasure from something old or familiar.

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