1. Who is more likely to assemble kitset furniture faster - a man or a woman?

A man, but if you take off the time a woman is likely to spend reading the instructions, there’s almost nothing in it. A study in Norway showed that men generally didn’t bother with instructions (and didn’t take much notice of them when they did).

Some researchers have commented that believing that men are generally better at such practical tasks may have slowed the women down and accounted for the slight difference in times.

Researchers have seen such stereotypical beliefs handicap competent people in a wide range of tasks at work and in education.

2. What’s the most effective way to start a conversation?

Make the other person laugh. The endorphins the laughter produces encourage people to be more open and relaxed, and give away more information about themselves. That self-disclosure gives us more information to work with so we can find common interests and opinions to get us well beyond, 'Isn't it a beautiful day?'

3. You want to create a good first impression. Should you speak fast or slow?

Fast. One study showed that listeners thought slow speech suggested the speaker was less truthful and less persuasive. Another showed that listeners thought people who spoke fast and responded quickly were more attentive, interested, on top of things and competent.

4. Can babies really tell the difference between happy and sad music?

Yes they can, but only from about nine months. A recent study showed that babies of that age can not only tell the difference, but pay more attention to happy music.

5. You have an uncompleted task at work and worrying about it threatens your plan for some serious couch time at home. What’s the best way to remove the intrusive thoughts?

Make a plan, but not just a reminder to complete the task. It should be vivid with what might seem unnecessary detail. American researchers came up with this example: ‘I will go to work and start [the task] at 10am in my office, log on to my computer and call the customers back’. It’s the context that makes the difference.

6. What would practical, affordable shoes reveal about the personalities of people you are about to meet?

That they are friendly. Observers have predicted that people who wear ordinary shoes are more likely to be easy to get along with. Were they right? Apparently. Researchers in the same study found that people with practical, affordable shoes scored higher on the personality trait ‘agreeableness’ than people who wore shoes with pointy toes and visible brands.

7. Your staff regularly work about an extra hour a day. How much difference would it make to their morale if you were to insist they go home on time?

Not much. Korean employees used to have the longest working weeks of any in the OECD. Researchers observed what happened when Korean employers shortened their hours by 10 per cent – about five hours. Hardly anyone was enjoying the long hours, but imposing a shorter working week did nothing for their job satisfaction, or happiness. They weren’t consulted and tended to interpret the change negatively, including how they would have to work harder to achieve the same tasks in less time.

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