Could a chair really help you work better? That was the question Herman Miller set out to answer when we tapped the Texas A&M Ergonomics Centre to collaborate with us on ground-breaking research that examined the effects a comfortable chair has on cognitive performance.
When we typically think of ergonomics, we think of the physical aspects of how a chair interacts with the person sitting in it. But in this experiment, cognitive ergonomics became our focus—evaluating memory, attention, and cognitive flexibility (your brain's ability to easily transition between ideas or tasks)—essentially, how well a person could think in one chair versus another.
The study included the following tests:
Goal: To test inhibition, or your ability to act naturally and feel relaxed
How it works: Focus on the direction of the arrow in the middle of the screen and indicate which direction it is pointing when a new, arrow-filled screen appears.
Goal: To test short-term memory
How it works: Recall the position of the shape from two screens prior.
Goal: To test cognitive flexibility, or how your brain transitions from thinking about one subject to another (it's associated with creativity)
How it works: Look at a larger shape (circle or rectangle) that might be coloured (red or blue) and match shape or colour.
The research showed that, when doing individual work, participants had a statistically lower HRV ratio while sitting in the automatically adjustable chair —Cosm—in seven of the nine tests. The lower HRV ratio indicates that the participants experienced lower stress and were therefore more relaxed while sitting in the high-back Cosm as compared to the highly adjustable and non-adjustable chairs.
What’s more, the Set-Shift cognitive test results demonstrated that people made decisions more quickly—without losing accuracy—while sitting in a Cosm Chair, compared with other chairs in the experiment. Additionally, the Flanker test results showed that neural efficiency increased over time for people sitting in the Cosm Chair.
What Does it Mean?
The results have important implications for work, since a lower HRV ratio is better for short-term memory, cognitive flexibility and the ability to stay focused even amid pesky office distractions—which are unavoidable in today's fast-paced, collaborative world of work. In fact, the researchers found that, over time, participants actually performed better (i.e., faster, better efficiency and accuracy) on tasks requiring creativity when sitting in the high-back Cosm as compared to the other two chairs.
The Bottom Line
Cosm is the only chair known to reduce cognitive load, giving people more mental capacity for their work—and for the creative ideas to flow. That's good for people, who want to accomplish everything on their to-do list, stress free, and for organizations, which undoubtedly want the same thing. The beauty of Cosm is that it lets people focus on their work, not their chairs.