Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Tipping points

New research from Austria suggests that playing either upbeat or sad music can increase the amount of tips serving staff receive.

Neutral piano music has no effect but “uplifting music makes people happy and the better mood someone is in the more they tip. Melancholic music nurtures people’s helping behaviour. The manipulated customers want to hep the serving staff with higher  tips than usual” says Annika Beer a psychologist at the University of Innsbruck.

The tipping effect applied particularly to older customers, perhaps because they listen to less music than younger people, or it could be that younger people have less disposable income.

The experiment was carried out in quite an upmarket restaurant where the average bill for two people was about £90 (the average tip was £3.50 more under the experimental condition).

There has been other research on tipping behaviour suggesting that waitresses who wear red lipstick do better and touching the customer’s hand as you give them the bill can increase tips.

There is also research that suggests that playing faster music will make customers finish their meals quicker – obviously an ideal in fast food restaurants.

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Restaurant are too noisy!

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coffee_table_talk_PA_500_wht_6082According to campaigners for the hard of hearing, restaurants are getting so noisy that it’s spoiling people’s enjoyment of the food.

They put part of the blame for the trend of clean decor or minimalist interiors. No carpets, curtains or table cloths to absorb the noise.

I think some restaurants, particularly Italian ones, also create noise deliberately in the belief it adds to the ambience.

For those of you who dislike noisy eating places help is at hand. The charity Action on Hearing Loss is fundraising to develop a mobile app that will allow you to record the decibel levels and enable the loudest restaurants to be “named and shamed” – and avoided by those who want a quiet night out.

The data collected will be fed back to a central database so that an interactive map can be created to let users know which restaurants to avoid.

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Bare bums on seats?

If you’ve seen or heard about the film “Contagion” you know it’s about how germs are easily spread by touching surfaces like doorknobs. And scientists reckon it’s pretty close to the truth.

Carol Midgley picked up on this the the Times  last week when she wrote about people who don’t wash their hands after using the lavatory.

We’ve all seen it, people cheerfully leaving a cubicle or a stall without so much as a wave at the hot water taps. Apparently only 10% of us take the trouble to wash our hands. Those who do, have probably also developed strategies for getting out of a public toilet without touching the door handle. My favourite is waiting for someone else to open the door and then use a foot and my elbow to keep it open so I can get out.

The more you think about it the worse it gets. At work for example when you are meeting and greeting and inevitably shaking hands or sharing office equipment. Maybe  Nathan Wolfe’s suggestion that we adopt the japanese habit of bowing has something going for it when you realise that most cold germs are transmitted by touch.

Midgley then mentions the even worse statistic that 1 in 6 of us have mobile phones contaminated by faecal matter.

Do not take your phone into the loo to dash off a few quick messages! Apart from the chance you might drop it down the lavatory it will get covered in microscopic particles of urine or shit.

So next time you want to borrow someone’s phone think twice before you ask and at the risk of offending them have a handy  disinfectant wipe to hand (and surely it will only be a matter of time before there’s an app for that).

And if you think that’s bad the same edition of the paper ran a story about California. In San Francisco it is legal for you to go into restaurants completely naked. The local council is voting to ban the practice and also make it mandatory for nudists to put a cushion under their bum when using public seating. One council member said “I believe sitting nude in a public place is not sanitary. Would you want to sit on a seat where someone had been sitting naked?

There’s a local group called the “Naked Guys”  who take to the streets wearing only a hat and shoes. Restaurateurs have complained that they are driving away business and while most restaurants have signs saying shoes and shirt required they don’t mention trousers. If the vote goes through the offenders could be fined a $1,000 and up to a year in prison.

Aren’t you glad I told you that?


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Princess on board – is that really a good thing?

“Have you let kids take over your life?” asked The Times’  Janice Turner – appropriately in the paper’s “Body + Soul” section – as the gist of the article was that they had done just that.

As I read the article I was agreeing more and more and getting quite annoyed. (It was in  half-term week after all).

A colleague and I used to meet regularly in a cafe bistro for a coffee and a glass of wine to catch up on mutual business matters. The cafe had big leather settees and proudly advertised wi-fi facilities which was great for nomads like us – a perfect mobile “office” and we could invite clients and colleagues to join us for lunch.

Then disaster struck – they introduced a kiddy menu (but not for them as there is probably more profit in a small portion than an adult one).

Now the place is crowded out with mums and kids in those over-sized “off-road buggies” which take out everything in their path. The noise level has increased and drowned out the background music – and that’s just the mums on their phones never mind the screaming kids. The staff often have to clear up the mess left by the kids around the settees (sticky drinks and leather – not a good combination) and not a laptop in sight.

And in an alternative venue I discovered that the mirror above the washbasin is fixed so low on the wall that any adult has to bend double to see in it (I had similar experiences in Wales but that’s a different story). It was put that way for the “little people” apparently (and no, we’re not in Ireland either).

We misinterpret “family friendly” as “child friendly” and over-indulge them, allowing them to dictate our lives rather than helping them adjust to the adult world. And as Turner points out other countries may be considered more family friendly but they expect children to fit in and be courteous.

Here we seem to be determined to raise a generation of accessorised little people with over-inflated egos, because they only ever receive praise, well on the way to developing a sense of  narcissistic entitlement. Simon Cowell needn’t worry about running out of X-factor wannabes any time soon.

As a parent I think I’ve done my share of tax-driving kids to activities and events but every time I see a car, or more probably a SUV, with a “Princess on Board” sign in the back, it makes me want to call social services and report a severe case of over-indulgence and parental self-flagellation.

Updated 15 February 2011: Seems I’m not the only person who gets annoyed when kids run around in restaurants. A report on the BBC News web-site reveals how attitudes vary and which restaurants welcome children. So you now know which ones to avoid.