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There's More to Life Than Facial Symmetry

Beauty trends come and go, but one iron law of psychology remains: People with symmetrical faces are considered, by study subjects, to be more attractive. For years, the prevailing theory has been that this is because we use symmetry as a proxy for health, and thus, good genes.

Whether or not you spent every January of your childhood wheezing under the covers likely reflects on your countenance in subtle ways. Supposedly, these minuscule changes later warn potential suitors—likely subconsciously—to stay away.

Much to the delight of ashthmatics everywhere, a new study pokes holes in the idea that facial symmetry and good health are synonymous. Using health data from 4,732 teenagers, psychologist Nicholas Pound at Brunel University London correlated each participant's history of rashes, aches, and infections with their facial symmetry, as determined by a 3-D scan.

The result? The more symmetrical teens weren't necessarily the healthiest ones. "This study does not support the idea that facial symmetry acts as a reliable cue to physiological health," the authors wrote.

Take that, Gisele Bundchen! Or should I say, Typhoid Mary. The wildly askew schnoz of Adrien Brody might be a better picture of well-being.

Schadenfreude aside, we ...

It’s Time to Focus on Empowerment and Recognition

Jay Williams, the new assistant secretary at the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, wants to improve the poor morale of the agency’s workforce. In last year's “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” rankings the agency was all but dead last among 300 agency subcomponents. Of the 14 job issues assessed in the Best Places analyses, EDA ranked either 298th or 299th in 13 of the categories.

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Williams said he plans “to create a situation where people feel empowered and appreciated.” The agency’s employees want “better communication, an engaged leadership, and they want to feel their work is appreciated and connected to the larger mission,” he said.

It sounds like Williams is committed to building a solidly engaged workforce. Unfortunately there is no proven strategy for doing that because “engagement” is a human resources construct that does not have a clear definition. Plus, this is an always-difficult organizational change.

A working group of the federal Chief Human Capital Officers Council defines “engagement” as “an employee’s passion and commitment to their work and organization.” Engaged workers stand out. They care about their work and the success of ...

Which Mode of Travel Provides the Happiest Commute?

For most people, a satisfying commute is not necessarily a happy one—a not-so-unhappy one will do. Yes, it's true that the ideal commute not absolutely zero commute; many of us can use the time to decompress or get some thinking done. But it's also true that beyond a certain point—roughly 15 minutes one-way, on average—we just want our lives and sanity back.

Even within that general framework of unpleasantness, some commutes are more enjoyable than others. A group of researchers at McGill University in Montreal recently tried to establish a clear hierarchy among the main six work-trip modes: driving, riding (bus and metro and commuter rail), walking, and cycling. They asked nearly 3,400 people who commuted to campus on a single mode to describe their typical trip in both winter and summer, and to rate their satisfaction with various aspects of that trip. The researchers then converted the ratings into a single satisfaction score for each of six commute modes.

We've charted the results below, but in case you can't wait that long, here are the raw (rounded) percentages: pedestrians (85 percent), train commuters (84 percent), cyclists (82 percent), drivers (77 percent ...

Yoga Makes Brains Nimble, Too

Yoga has long been touted as a way to improve physical health and mental wellbeing, but it may also make you better at your job—or your retirement activities. Practicing hatha yoga three times a week improved older Americans’ information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching, according to a study released this week.

The 61 new yogis who participated in the study were between 55 and 79 years old, and attended yoga classes three times a week for eight weeks. Another group of people met for the same amount of time, but practiced general toning and stretching exercises. They saw no significant change in cognitive function over that time.

Hatha, the most common kind of yoga taught in the US, focused on poses called “asanas” and breathing techniques. Previous research has demonstrated that these movements and the focus on breathing can reduce stress and anxiety, and that lower stress may have contributed to the better results, according to the study.

If you’re looking to get into yoga to sharpen those mental skills, finding classes or videos to get you started isn’t difficult in the US—Americans spend $27 billion a year on yoga products and there were 20.4 ...

Unlocking the PerformanceStat Potential

Harvard University’s Bob Behn has been working on his latest book about the “Stat” movement for more than a decade. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of The PerformanceStat Potential and told him I would read it and share my impressions with others. In his inimitable response, he just asked that I spell “Behn” and “PerformanceStat” correctly.

Since 2001, Bob Behn has visited dozens of governmental organizations that are using the PerformanceStat model—some well and some poorly. His bold objective was to answer the research question of whether PerformanceStat really makes a difference in improving performance and how it works. In short, his answer is: It depends, and it’s complicated.

Behn has written a definitive book about the PerformanceStat phenomena, and apologizes that it is so long. The challenge, he says, was converting the tacit knowledge he developed during years of research into explicit written knowledge in a book for government executives.

PerformanceStat Defined

“PerformanceStat” is Behn’s shorthand for a concept developed 20 years ago by New York City deputy police commissioner Jack Maple as a crime reduction strategy, which Maple dubbed “CompStat.” This approach was so successful in reducing crime, it quickly spread to ...