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Saying “Yes, and…” to Improv


Picture yourself leading a meeting at work. Are you confident and verbally adept? Or are you queasy and tripping over your tongue?

If you’re in the latter category, you may want to sign up for an improvisational theater class. Hopkins recently recruited Michael Hartwell, a professional improv performer, to teach undergrads a number of important lessons, from focused listening and effective communications skills to teamwork and even crisis management.

The wacky scenarios that emerge during improv may have nothing to do with the technical careers awaiting the Hopkins undergrads, but that’s the point. “Few things prepare a person to deal confidently with unforeseen challenges the way improv does,” Hartwell says.

Take the common improv exercise known as “Yes, and...,” where scene partners must say yes to every suggestion without judgment, and then build on the idea. It fosters creativity, generosity to others, and thinking on your feet.

Improv training is useful for those who fear public speaking because its silliness and multitasking have a way of getting participants to let go of their worries, Hartwell says. “There’s a lot of research being done right now with regard to ‘the brain on improv,’” Hartwell says. “You can’t help but have fun within the context of these strange scenarios. You’re getting some of the most salient positive reinforcement there is.”

improv group
Jabari Weathers

Power Nap

Brain Health

Are you feeling guilty about a midafternoon snooze? Don’t. Research shows that catching a few ZZZs can be good for your brain. But keep in mind that the length of your nap matters. Ideally, it should last between 20 and 40 minutes to avoid feeling groggy immediately after you wake up. “A quick cat nap should be restorative,” says Charlene Gamaldo, medical director of Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center. Shorter naps also ensure you don’t have trouble falling asleep at night.

Junk Food Science

Food Cravings

Grocery shopping on an empty stomach is a fool’s errand. You wind up in the checkout line with brownies when you meant to buy broccoli. Eating a small but satisfying treat in advance could be one way to diminish the pull of junk food, according to a recent study at Johns Hopkins. Researchers tried to distract people while they worked on a complicated task by showing them images of food, with pictures of everyday things like thumbtacks and bicycles thrown into the mix. They found that pictures of high-calorie foods like ice cream, cake, and hot dogs were twice as distracting as images of apples, carrots, and inanimate objects. And then they threw test subjects a curveball. “We decided to give people a small snack before doing the experiment—two funsized candy bars,” says Howard Egeth, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins. The effect was striking. The interest in high-calorie food was eliminated.

ketchup on hotdog
Shannon May

Taking the Clickbait

Behavioral Science

You know the headline must be too good to be true, but you click on the link anyway. Why are we so prone to falling for dubious stories on the internet? “Clickbait is designed to trigger a visceral desire to know,” explains Haiyang Yang, an expert in marketing and consumer behavior at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. These headlines “can be very arousing and seductive.”

Three psychological drivers make the allure powerful: relevance, emotion, and novelty. “The more relevant the information is to ourselves, the more we want to know about it,” Yang says. If you’re looking to lose weight, you might click the aggrandized content about a celebrity’s supposed diet plan. Similarly, when headlines suggest you’re a mere click away from a highly emotional story, you’re more driven to click. Add in an element of the unexpected (You won’t believe what happened next!) and these stories feel impossible to resist.

“Reminding ourselves of the negative experiences we’ve had with clickbait may help fight the urge,” Yan says. “Before you click, think of the time you’ve wasted on clickbait, disappointments you’ve experienced, or the anger at being tricked.”

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