Eating Popcorn with Chopsticks: Novelty Is the Spice of Life
A recent research study at The Ohio State University (my alma mater) recently caught my attention. I knew from the title that this was going to be an interesting read: “Why Popcorn Tastes Better When You Eat It with Chopsticks” [https://news.osu.edu/news/2018/06/26/popcorn-chopsticks/]. You can also read about the popcorn study here in a Washington Post article titled “When Searching For Happiness, Try Eating Popcorn with Chopsticks.” [https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/when-searching-for-happiness-try-eating-popcorn-with-chopsticks/2018/07/06/60e9e438-73cc-11e8-805c-4b67019fcfe4_story.html?utm_term=.8a29c08f7cb8]
In the popcorn and chopsticks study, researchers asked 68 participants to eat popcorn using either their hands or chopsticks. The study then looked at how much the participants enjoyed the popcorn. The group that ate popcorn with chopsticks enjoyed the popcorn far more than the group who ate it with just their hands. Co-author of the study Robert Smith explains it this way:
“When you eat popcorn with chopsticks, you pay more attention and you are more immersed in the experience…It’s like eating popcorn for the first time.”
In a followup study, researchers found that people enjoyed drinking water more when they were asked to find creative ways to drink it (such as lapping it up like a dog). And participants had more fun watching a video multiple times when they made “hand goggles” over their eyes for repeat viewings.
Chopsticks aren’t a better way to eat popcorn, they are just different. Hand goggles don’t change the quality of the video being watched, they just alter our perception a little bit.
Our brains crave novelty. Doing the same thing over and over again in the same way is boring. Musicians can get into a practice rut by playing from the beginning to the end of every piece, making the same mistakes, playing at the same tempo, etc. However, we know that practicing the same thing in the same way over and over is not good for learning or memory. I discuss brain research on this topic in the following blog posts:
Practice does not have to be boring. In fact, practice will be more productive if it’s interesting and playful. Perhaps instead of “hand goggles,” you could wear sunglasses while practicing. When my son was about six years old, he received spy night vision goggles for his birthday. That week, he played piano wearing them. We all thought it was hilarious and he practiced more than usual that week.
My daughter figured out a way to play five recorders at once using straws. I’d never heard “Hot Cross Buns” like that before!
Of course, whatever novel idea is enjoyable this week will become less interesting next week. Be sure to change up the practice routine and adding different “spices” to make it more interesting.
Here are some simple ideas for adding spice to music practice:
How do you keep your practice fresh? Are there fun, silly, or creative strategies that you like to use? Share your ideas below in the comment section.