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Bling or brown paper? – and dodging National Divorce Day!

It’s a wrap!

Wondering whether to bother wrapping up those gifts – after all they know what you’ve bought them already, good paper is expensive and it’s bad for the environment too.

Turns out that the same gift when wrapped even in brown paper, is perceived as more valuable than one delivered in a transparent plastic bag – Gift-Wrapping Effects on Product Attitudes: A Mood-Biasing Explanation. It’s a tricky balance though: a neatly-wrapped gift for an acquaintance can raise expectations about the quality of what’s inside, leading to potential disappointment. On the other hand, close friends or family associate the care you take in presentation as a sign of your investment in the relationship – Presentation Matters: The Effect of Wrapping Neatness on Gift Attitudes.

Beware of overdoing the bling though!

Giving your beloved a shiny package may get their attention, but paradoxically it may undermine trust as it may be perceived as a desperate attempt to get attention and ‘cover up’ something else – All that glitters is not gold: when glossy packaging hurts brand trust.

Why do we love sparkly things in the first place?

There are two broad theories for this. The first is that shiny surfaces are an indication of evolutionary fitness and fertility: think shiny red apple and glossy-haired models: it’s costly to build and maintain a perfectly clean smooth surface. The second, related theory is that sparkly shiny surfaces are a signal of the presence of water, the most vital human need – Taking a shine to it: How the preference for glossy stems from an innate need for water.

Either way, your ability to spot a shiny object starts young – from around 5 months old – Perception of Surface Glossiness by Infants Aged 5 to 8 Months. No wonder my nephew Wilf is more interested in the shiny ribbon than the gift itself!


Three books for the light-lover in your life 

  1. Beautiful destinations away from the bright lights – Lonely Planet Dark Skies: A Practical Guide to Astrotourism
  2. Pioneering cinematographer John Alton’s book, Painting with Light – You will never look at a film the same way again.
  3. Professor Russell Foster’s bestselling latest book, Life Time: The New Science of the Body Clock, and How It Can Revolutionize Your Sleep and Health. It’s my ‘go to’ for fascinating facts. Bill Bryson agrees – ‘this is a superlative guide to some of the most intriguing questions of human existence.’


Dodge National Divorce Day

The first working Monday of the New Year is known as National Divorce Day because it traditionally marks the day with the largest number of applications for divorce. Light could just help you to stay on friendly terms, especially if you start the count down now!

  1. Reduce your default threat response: Three weeks of bright light therapy (10,000 lux for 30 minutes per day) reduced activity in the threat-response pathway in the brain in a dose-dependent way (more light = less response) – Three-Week Bright-Light Intervention Has Dose-Related Effects on Threat-Related Corticolimbic Reactivity and Functional Coupling.
  2. Help you chill out and rest: Two weeks of bright light therapy (10,000 lux for 1 hour per day) improved sleep for people with sleep disturbances. This is the first study that looks beyond the SCN or body clock system to link bright light therapy with reduced connectivity in the salience network, a set of responses linked to reward-seeking behaviour and addiction – Decreased functional connectivity within the salience network after two-week morning bright light exposure in individuals with sleep disturbances: a preliminary randomized controlled trial.
  3. Increase your likelihood of choosing negotiation over conflict: Warm light makes you more likely to feel connected with others and consider shared interests – View it in a different light: Mediated and moderated effects of dim warm light on collaborative conflict resolution.
  4. Increase prosocial behaviour: If you want them to help with the chores, turn up the brightness: people who are concerned about how others see them tend to behave in more pro-social ways in bright light as we naturally feel that our actions will be judged by others.  That doesn’t work for those who don’t care what others think: they will still hog the remote control and expect you to put the kettle on – Illuminating illumination: Understanding the influence of ambient lighting on prosocial behaviorsInterestingly, another study found that men’s behaviour was strongly affected by light levels, while women remained consistent – Gender moderates the effect of darkness on ethical behaviors: An explanation of disinhibition.


Arranging the gifts under the Christmas tree?

Hack your visual system to create a more pleasing display.

Find the dominant viewing position, perhaps from the sofa, and position lighter-coloured gifts and decorations top left and brighter, deeper colours lower right. You will reinforce the simple pleasure of perceptual fluency or things being natural or ‘right’.

That’s because most of us have an innate expectation that brighter, darker objects will be lower down in the visual field, as they might be outside in the wild – How to display products available in multiple color saturation: Fit between saturation and position.

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