All posts by brainandthewind

Reducing Youth Violence

I was listening to a Freakonomics’ podcast “I don’t know what you’ve done with my husband but he’s a changed man” episode and learned something related to the topic of this blog that I want to share with you.

The episode was on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is a type of psychotherapy in which Psychologists and patients work to overcome difficulties through discussions and problem solving. Most of the time, it means changing one’s thinking, actions, or emotional responses to their surroundings.

Chicago was mentioned several times in the podcast. Ever since living in Chicago, I have had a tendency of getting very excited about the topic being discussed when Chicago is mentioned. I feel that the general population is referring to Chicago more and more now, or is that my illusion? Either way, I decided to look more into BAM (Becoming A Man), a youth program in Chicago that was mentioned in the podcast.

The program is super interesting. It’s part of University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, where they implement research-based policies to reduce crime and violence. This program, BAM, was a one-year program aimed to reduce youth gun violence that is so prevalent in Chicago. In addition, they wanted to reduce skiving and school dropouts.

The Crime Lab went into schools and taught Grade 7-10 males on a variety of social cognitive skills, including self-control, conflict resolution, and social information processing. These are crucial knowledge for everyday functions that is curiously not taught as part of the school curriculum.

Results from the implementation were remarkable. Before the program, the average youth missed 6 weeks of school and had a grade point average of D+. After the program, students missed fewer classes and performed better. More importantly, they were 10–23% more likely to graduate and violent crime arrests reduced by a whooping 44%!

The long-term effects of this program are still being evaluated. The after effects of an experiment are something that is important to think about when implementing programs in the real world. Firstly, the results of the program itself could have positive or negative impact on the participants (though you hope that it’s positive of course!) However, researchers should also think about what happens to the participants after the experiment is “over”. The long-term impact might range from positive, where the situation continues to become better, neutral, where there’s no impact, or worst-case negative, where it has adverse effects. In this case, the worst case scenario could be that the Grade 7-10 males immediately resorted to gun violence after the program because they didn’t have cognitive behavioral therapy sessions anymore.

Hope this was new and educational! It was for me. Have a productive week!



Source: University of Chicago Crime Lab Research and Policy Brief – “BAM – Sports Edition”

Social Norm

One of the most frequently quoted Psychologists in my marketing classes was Robert Cialdini. He has a PhD in Psychology and spends most of his research in the field of Marketing, commonly interpreted as the application of psychology. Many of his work has every day applications, so I’ll eventually cover all of them on the blog, but today I’ll talk about Social Norms.

If you’ve stayed at a hotel, have you seen a card in the bathroom that asked you to reuse your towels? More likely than not, the card referenced something about saving water or saving the environment. Cialdini sneakily changed the words on some of the hotel guests’ cards. These are the four variations –





Which one do you think had the biggest compliance in reusing towels?

Both (3) and (4) use the Social Norm appeal, meaning that they mention others who are just like you (who stayed at the hotel). Knowing that others similar to you have reused the towel motivates you to do the same. (4), however, takes it a step further and makes the connection with other guests who have stayed in the exact same room. Does this work? After all, you don’t know the guests who have stayed before you, and probably don’t care.

It absolutely does work! Cialdini and his collaborators found that (3) increased towel reuse by 26% compared to (1). This is a huge increase given that they only changed one line on the card. What’s more remarkable is that in (4), they found a 33% increase in towel reuse participation compared to (1).

Using the power of social psychology in creative ways can have powerful impact. In this case, it helped effectively reduce water and electricity usage. In our daily lives, try to establish social norm to increase compliance to your idea – it could be getting your friend to go to a party with you, or increasing attendance to your next Meet-Up event.

Have a great week!

Teaching Positive Psych in Italy (Guest Post)

By my friend Simone, owner of blog Simone Vibes. This post is a great application of psychology. I created this blog so that everyone can incorporate psych into their daily lives, so if you have any examples of applying psychology into practice, please feel free to share it with me and write something for my readers!


I love Positive Psychology, and I have loved it ever since I took its introductory course at Penn in the fall of 2013. Professor Angela Lee Duckworth radiates positivity, and her excellence in the field is palpable. The simplest exercises in making life worth living can bring enormous changes to our daily lives.

During my Fulbright year in Italy, I was invited to teach some guest lectures at local high schools, on a topic of my choice. It was not hard for me to decide on a mini-course introducing the field of Positive Psych, and the success rate, even among unruly Italian teenagers, some struggling to fully grasp the English language, was overwhelming.

In Salerno, Italy, much of the population is struggling with unemployment and dangers from the Mafia. Located just 45 minutes south of Naples, this small coastal city is a hub of mob activity. Many of the kids have hard familiar conditions that they hide with overly confident comments and cool fashion. However, underneath it all, their teachers confided in me that life is not easy. I decided to bring two exercises – ‘Three Good Things’ and the ‘Gratitude Letter’ – to their lives, to see if it had any effect.

At first, many of the students, between the ages of 15-18, were skeptical. Some said it seemed cheesy, others grunted at the task to appear cool. But I had faith. After a brief, but relatively thorough introduction on the origins of and ideas behind Positive Psychology, I let them choose one of the exercises, to be completed at their leisure.

At the end of class, I asked if anyone wanted to read their letter or list out loud. At first timid, some kids eventually raised their hands. Mind you, English is not their native language, so writing these personal things in English class, and thus, obviously in a language they may still feel a bit awkward in, added to the challenge. However, they did a fantastic job, both linguistically and in terms of content.

Those who read out loud had much softer, excited tones in their voices than at the beginning of class. The other classmates listened very attentively. Some nodded. Others looked pensive.

When I asked the young students how the exercise made them feel, the answers ranged from “so happy” to “funny” to “with lots of love”. In their own sweet way, they demonstrated that simple exercises from Positive Psychology can be applied to anyone. With a little faith, they can have an unexpectedly uplifting effect, even on the stubborn and skeptical!

Later that day, I received several Facebook friend requests from the students. Wondering about this, having only spent a couple of hours in each class, I reached out to their permanent teacher to inquire about these requests. She smiled and told me, “They really loved your class. It put them in a good mood. They did not even scramble to leave for lunch!”

This positive effect undoubtedly made it onto my list of three good things that day. Not only that, it was one of the unquestionable highlights of my Fulbright year.

I believe in the power of Positive Psychology across cultures and age groups, across languages and traditions. I am grateful for what I learned and hope to keep sharing it whenever possible.


A Summer Weekend (Guest Post)

By my friend, Jenny Xia, who also wrote about Eataly exactly a year ago

Having lived in DC for the past year, I couldn’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed by how much bigger Chicago seemed in comparison. As Steph and I explored the city, I began to convince myself that Chicago has to be larger than NYC. In a moment of nerdiness, I Googled this and it turns out that NYC’s over 30% bigger in square mileage.

It also turns out that I experienced a psychology phenomenon called the “contrast effect.” The term describes how undergoing two contrasting experiences can skew a person’s perception of the latter event. During my stay with Steph, Chicago seemed enormous, though I probably wouldn’t feel the same way if I had been visiting her from NYC. In a way, the cognitive bias worked in my favor as it made my visit to Chicago feel even more exciting and the city grander.

The rest of the weekend Steph and I spent together was as exciting as the day Steph recapped in her last post, here’s some of our activities that weekend:

  1. Touring Pilsen

Continue reading A Summer Weekend (Guest Post)


Last weekend, my friend Jenny came to visit me in Chicago and I wrote about the Coloring Book she got me. This past week flew by and it is the beginning of the week again! How did that happen?

Scrolling through my photos, I was faced with the issue of having too many choices (see Choice Overload). We did so much last weekend that I don’t know which activity to write about! In hindsight, it seems almost stressful that we packed so many activities one after another, but in the moment it was just a series of spontaneous decisions that all turned out to be amazing memories.

I’ll recap a few activities here even though it doesn’t do the weekend justice. Here are some ideas on what you can do in Chicago, whether you’re visiting town or a local –

  1. Goose Island Brewery Tour

Goose Island is a local beer company conveniently located in Goose Island, where it got its name from. It is the proud owner of the famous craft beer 312 Urban Wheat Ale where we see so often around Chicago (312 is the area code). I have to confess that I’m not a huge beer fan, though I’ve become more tolerant in recent months. Beer also goes well with spicy SzeChuan food, one of my favorite cuisines. But overall, I don’t know much about beer besides occasionally drinking it. So, Jenny and I decided to check out the craft beer brewery when she visited.

For $12, you can get a tour of the brewery located on 1800 W Fulton Street, West Loop. You put on safety goggles and rubber boots, and off you go! Get a beer on one hand and leave the other hand free for the many samples they give you along the tour. It’s a great way to learn about the beer-making process and the history of the company.

Chicago Brewery Tour


2) Fulton Market Kitchen

After the brewery tour and too many beer samples later, Jenny and I Yelped for restaurants nearby. It wasn’t until then that I realized we were close to the West Loop, a foodie area in Chicago. We made a reservation at Fulton Market Kitchen and started our 25-minute walk to it. Along the way were factories that have been refurbished into offices, usually with a restaurant on the ground level. I love these set-ups for their combination of the old and the new. It reminds us of the past as we continue to move forward into the future.


Fulton Market Kitchen is a restaurant located in one of these refurbished factories. The interior design is filled with art on the walls. In the center next to the cocktail bar, a featured artist is painting his/her piece, creating new art right in front of your eyes.

The food is served in tapas portion and presented decoratively on white marble plates. The dishes were a little too flavorful for me, but I still thoroughly enjoyed everything. Extra points for the real candle on the table. I definitely want to be back again!


3) Night at the Art Institute

Ending our Friday night with a more cultural twist, we went for a night out at The Art Institute of Chicago, rated the best museum in the world by TripAdvisor. There are a few other “night at the museum” events around the city, such as Adler After Dark at the planetarium (read my post here) and Jazzin at the Shedd at the aquarium. The Art Institute doesn’t hold night events usually but this was a private event. We walked around Charles Ray: Sculpture 1997-2014 exhibition, which is the special exhibition this month at the museum. There was also a cash bar and some really spicy popcorn which I avoided, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to stop after eating one (see my post on Stale Popcorn Experiment).


These were just our Friday afternoon/night activities! We explored even more places and did more activities on Saturday and Sunday, all of which were new experiences for me. Jenny will cover off on more next week.

Have a great week, Steph


My good friend Jenny was visited me in Chicago this weekend. It was a memorable weekend exploring different chi-neighborhoods, attending local cultural events, and showing her my chi-city life (i.e. brunch/workout/drink). In fact, we did so many fun things this past three days, I can’t decide which one to highlight, but stay tuned for my post next week for some of the things we did 🙂

SecretGardenShe also surprised me with a gift – thank you love!! It’s a coloring book called Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, which has elaborate garden designs to color in. She also bought me a set of 24 color pencils, something that I haven’t touched for way too many years. Along with the present, she also expressed that coloring has therapeutic effects, which intrigued me to read more about this. 
It turns out that coloring book for adults have become so popular that it makes the Top 10 Bestseller Book on Amazon. It is becoming a phenomenon not just within the US but also worldwide, where people are using these beautifully outlined pages as a way to de-stress or lower their anxiety levels.

Research has supported that this works! In an experiment, people were asked to complete an anxiety-inducing task, and then after engage in 20-minutes of coloring session. They were either coloring 1) on a blank piece of paper; 2) on a plaid design (below) that is basically crisscrossing of straight lines ;3) on a mandala, an elaborate and repetitive pattern often seen in Indian religions and associated with meditation. PlaidDesignThey found that after 20 minutes, those who colored the plaid design or the mandala had significantly lower anxiety levels, whereas those who merely colored on blank paper did not relieve any stress. Additionally, they found that there is no difference in how much stress was reduced between coloring the mandala, which is much more difficult to design, and the simple crossing lines that could be drawn on Word. However, I suspect that the reason all the coloring books out there right now are closer to the mandala designs is because marketers and designers would opt for the fancier and prettier option to attract consumer attention. Shoppers might be less intrigued to buy a coloring book made of just straight lines, which I could probably draw with a ruler and a piece of paper myself. PagesinsideSecretGardenCannot wait to start coloring these beautiful pages in the Secret Garden! While I have a set of 24 color pencils, the participants in the experiment only had 6. I wonder if having 4x more choices will make me more stressed out – a choice-overload problem?


Miss you already! With Love, Steph


Do summer weeks fly by quicker than other seasons? It seems like every time summer rolls around, my schedule becomes packed with activities after activities (and not complaining)! This past weekend, I was in New Orleans with my high school friends, Suetwa and Amy. They flew in from NYC and we met up in NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) Friday night.

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New Orleans is famous for Mardi Gras, a HUGE carnival celebration every year in February. It involves beads, green beads, red beads, gold beads, purple beads, masks, costumes, and king cakes. Mardi Gras was on my list of “things to do before 30”, but after this trip, I’m really glad I came during the off season so I got to experience NOLA as it normally is. Going to NOLA during Mardi Gras is like going to Munich during Oktoberfest or visiting Penn for Spring Fling, it just isn’t what it’s like all year round.

This trip was nothing short of unique:

  • We made a brief visit to Bourbon Street, located inside French Quarter, where all the touristy bars and crazy drunks are on Friday (and all other days of the week, we later found out). Bachelorettes wearing tutus and wobbly drunks throwing beads off bar balconies. We soon decided to head back to the hotel room.


  • The next morning, I went for a walk around the same street to see the morning scene. It was as different as day and night, literally. Minus the flowing of alcohol and people’s hurrahs, you can clearly see the French influence throughout New Orleans. When you look down the street, you see facades painted in pale colors and ornate balconies. Coupled with a glass of chilled white wine on an outdoor table, it brings me back to Europe.


  • Don’t feel dreamy for too long! We walk past stores on Decatur Street with “take-out cocktails” and “spiciest hot sauce in town”. Suetwa, Amy, and I all love spicy food, so we decided to sign a waiver to try the 10+++ spicy sauce.

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  • NOLA features Cajun cuisine. I didn’t know much about Cajun food, aside from it being the inspiration for Boiling Crab and Angry Crab, which aren’t actually what Cajun is. To be honest, I still don’t really know what Cajun cuisine entails, but this weekend we had a lot of seafood. Shrimp & Grits, Barbeque Shrimp, Shrimp Gumbo, Corn Bread, Chicken and Dumplings, Jambalaya, Fried Chicken, etc…


  • We also went to the WWII Museum, the No.1 place to visit on Trip Advisor. Sometimes TripAdvisor rankings intrigue me. For example, the #1 thing to do in Hong Kong is hiking (while many of us from Hong Kong haven’t even hiked there). But Trip Advisor also never fails to impress me – my first time hiking in HK was this past February and it was super fun! The WWII Museum in NOLA was extremely educational. It also reminds me of how grateful we should be for the world we have today and how much things have changed in only 70 years. It makes my problems and complaints so trivial and ignorant.

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  • Last but not least, there’s the coffee shop that I visited 4 times during 3 day trip. Appropriately named, the café is called Addiction. It’s a cute and quiet coffee shop right across from my hotel. The tables are made from reclaimed wood and the shop is connected to their own barber shop, which was an interesting set-up.


Overall, it was a great and memorable trip. To quote our uber driver, “[NOLA] is a place where there’s no judgment, that’s why it’s called The Big Easy. If people want to wake up to a glass (or two) of mimosas and face their Sunday’s drunk, then so be it.”

New Orleans has its own charm and character that is unlike any other city I’ve seen. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to explore a city that’s not the traditional go-to’s.


Love, Steph


Hello everyone, Happy Sunday! Hope you’re enjoying your weekend. My weekend has been a combination of new experiences – brunch spots, dishes, and some not-so-new chores – doing laundry. One of the highlights of my weekend was in itself a mix of new and familiar experience.

My friends and I went to New Rebozo, a mexican restaurant in River North, Chicago. It’s a familiar experience because I’ve been to this restaurant twice before. The first time was after I signed my lease for my first apartment (woop!) That itself earned New Rebozo a special place in my heart. Then, I went again with Shraddha after my first (and only) attempt at aerial yoga. For those of you who have not heard of aerial yoga, lmgify here. That time, we established that they have pretty good margs.


This time, I decided to try mole poblano, a traditional mexican dish. Even though I rarely venture outside of my fish tacos, chipotle burrito bowl, and guacamole for my mexican choices, I wanted to see what this featured item on the menu was all about. So here we go, mole, pronounced “mo-lay”, which is slightly different from guaca”mole”, is a chocolate based sauce that is poured over your dish. I ordered the Fiesta Mole, which was a platter of 6 moles over 6 enchiladas, the best way to try out all the varieties. To put inside the enchiladas, I chose chicken and cheese, though you can also choose beans, guacamole, or chorizo.

The experience was interesting, though I confess I’m not the biggest fan of this traditional mexican dish. The different mole flavors were chocolate (plain), pistachio, pumpkin seed, almond, etc. Each of them tasted very different from the next, making each bite an exciting experiment. The chocolate mole, which I was told is the most basic or traditional version of what people call mole, is probably my least favorite of all. I’m usually a big proponent for mixing sweet and savory food, but the chocolate mole had a strange after taste to it. A few of the flavored ones tasted better and complemented the chicken and cheese enchiladas.


I’m glad we tried moles at New Rebozo. It was definitely a new experience for me, though I’m most likely going back to the tacos and margs next time (which are great, btw!)

Lastly, while we are on the topic of mexican food, here’s a game for a BOGO chipotle if you’re a fan (or not): Chipotle Friend or Faux

Have a great week!


GROWING UP (Guest Post)

by Sara Curtiss

What do you want to be when you grow up?  I bet when you were a kid, you had a solid answer to that.  Are you doing that job now?  What changed?  What path has life taken you on?

For the past seven years, I have been a high school science teacher, but now the joy was gone.  I discovered that I no longer wanted to be a classroom teacher.  With this realization came the inevitable question, “what do I want to be when I grow up?”

It is a hard question to answer.  When we are kids, it was simple: fireman, doctor, school bus driver.  Jobs are fun when we were kids.  They were grown up and exciting.  There wasn’t the reality of health benefits, career ladders, salaries, or coworkers.  There wasn’t any stigma of job position or wealth.  My sister wanted to be a garbage man because she thought that riding on the back of the garbage truck would be a blast.  Being a fireman is fun because you get to slide down the pole and be a hero.  I wanted to be a marine biologist so that I could swim with the dolphins.

When you start to grow up, you realize how complicated those job dreams can be.  You can’t walk in on the first day and get your dream job.  There is training and learning that you need to do to get there.  You really do have to climb that ladder and know someone on the inside.

You also realize how many jobs there are out there.  Oh you want to go into IT?  There are a gazillion jobs that are in the IT field so which area do you want to specialize in?  Computers, security, insurance, research, etc?  The questions get more and more specific, and for me, more and more confusing.  Add to this the fact that you have to be good at what you do to the successful and the question becomes harder than organic chemistry class.  Somewhere in all of this, you lose sight of that childhood job fantasy.

Job searching is like online dating but your resume needs to be perfect and your profile picture can’t have you enjoying the latest party.  There are numerous websites devoted to job hunting and you have to be on all of them to have a chance.  Applying to other jobs was like having a second job.  It took up hours out of each day and added heaps of stress to my life.  Each time I would get a response from a potential employer, I poured my heart and soul into trying to land that job.  When that didn’t work, I applied in bulk to anything and everything that sounded remotely interesting or that I would be good at.

My saving grace came in the form of my father who helped me get an introduction at a pharmaceutical company who had open positions in regulatory affairs.  It was a job I knew nothing about but I could apply my science background and organizational skills to.  Three fabulous interviews later and I got offered a job.  The only caveat: I had to relocate to Nashville, Tennessee.

So now there are two adventures in one; a city change and a career change.  I love Chicago and all of the time that I have spent there.  I found a life-long friend, found a great cocktail bar, ate way too much delicious food and ogled over beautiful city and lake views.  I did not want to leave, but sometimes, life takes us on a journey that we were not told about in advance.

I don’t know where this adventure will lead me, but hopefully one step closer to answering that inevitable question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Goodbye Sara! I still remember the day we met at a “Girls New to Chicago” meet-up event, you ordered fish tacos I’m pretty sure (which has since became a defining trademark of our friendship), followed by endless reminders of what your “gluten free” restriction includes. Thank you for all the nights at Berkshire, spontaneous adventures, and especially for being the better (calmer) half when I almost missed my flight back to Hong Kong. 

All the best with your move to Nashville and can’t wait to visit! You better know all the good spots by the time I visit 😉

With love, Steph

@ none other than our Berkshire Room
@ none other than our Berkshire Room


Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good weekend. My friend recently sent me an article name “8 Psychological Tricks of Restaurant Menus“, of which I’ve previously written about these two:
#1 the choice overload problem
#2 the compromise effect
My goal is to eventually write about all eight as B&TW posts, so I’m going to write the third one today. Lets start with….”[restaurants] utilize colors”.
It might be difficult for some to believe that something as trivial as a color choice could influence someone’s decisions. However, small changes can have large effects, especially when it comes to human behaviors. Small changes in the environment can leads to huge changes in how you respond.
Color is a great example of this. Blue is a soothing color, often associated with water, sky, ocean and has a calming effect. Red, on the other hand, is an active color, and could be associated with danger, blood, but also passion, love.
One study on color was set in a school classroom, where researchers changed the walls from originally orange/white to royal/light blue. The existing orange carpet is replaced by a grey one. What did this change?
The students’ blood pressure level dropped from 120 to 100, down 17%. Also, they became more attentive and less fidgety, according to the teachers and independent observers. Interestingly, when they tried to change the color back to the orange-themed setting, students started becoming rowdy and blood pressure increased again.
What is amazing is the magnitude of effect from changing a detail that the children would never pay attention to. I wonder how many of us remembers what color our classroom or office wall is. white? or is it blue? light yellow? The students most likely didn’t even notice that someone came in overnight to change the walls and the carpet. Nevertheless, it had a physiological and attitudinal impact on them, which could have benefits short term and long term.