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Findings from research on how familiarity influences perceptions of space and travel time will be handy to designers.  They can, for example, be used to explain distorted perceptions of space and time en route that are found during user research and also to support creating spaces that can be modified over time.  Jafarpour and Spiers found that “familiarity to an environment . . . distort[s] representations of the space by expanding the size of it. . . . We found that while estimates for sketched space were expanded with familiarity, estimates of the time to travel through the space were contracted with familiarity.”  So, familiarity with a route causes us to perceive that it is longer than it actually is and also to hold the contradictory belief that it will take us less time to travel along it than it actually does, which can make us late to arrive at meetings, etc.

A. Jafarpour and H. Spiers. “Familiarity Expands Space and Contracts Time.”  Hippocampus, in press.

Koschinsky and her team wanted to better understand what motivates people to lace on their sneakers and go for a walk.  Their work focused on data collected with two different instruments, “Walk Score” and the “State of Place Index”: “Walk Score is used to measure walkable access while the State of Place Index is applied to synthesize the qualitative urban form dimensions” that have been linked to walking among people in an area.  These include trees, crosswalks, and benches being present, for example.  Using data from 115 walkable neighborhoods in Washington DC’s metropolitan area the team found “a strong and positive overall association between walkable access (Walk Score) and walkability (State of Place). However, this association masks problems with the quality of the walking environment that are significantly larger in low-income neighborhoods (even those with very good walkable access), especially regarding connectivity, personal safety, and the presence of litter and graffiti. As a proxy for walkability, Walk Score’s walkable access measure is, therefore, not equally strong across all neighborhoods but declines with income.”  This research is particularly important because it demonstrates that the way things (such as whether an area is a good place to walk) are measured can have implications for conclusions drawn.

Julia Koschinsky, Emily Talen, Mariela Alfonzo, and Sungduck Lee.  “How Walkable is Walker’s Paradise?”  Environment and Planning B, in press.

Miller and Krizan studied the emotional consequences of the walking that we do as we live our daily lives.  They learned that  “walking incidental to routine activity (heretofore referred to as "incidental ambulation")-not specifically "exercise"-is a robust facilitator [enabler] of positive affect [mood]. . . . ambulation [walking] facilitates positive affect even when participants are blind to” its ability to do so. The Miller/Krizan research program eliminated  “the possibility that posture, ambient [nearby] events, or experimenter bias account for the results.” The researchers conclude that their work “demonstrate[s] that incidental ambulation systematically promotes positive affect  . . . and that it can override the effects of other emotionally relevant events such as boredom and dread.”  Miller and Krizan’s work provides more reasons to plan in opportunities –and reasons - to walk – inside and outside!

J. Miller and Z. Krizan.  2016.  “Walking Facilitates Positive Affect (Even When Expecting the Opposite).”  Emotion, vol. 16, no. 5, pp. 775-785.

Dietze and Knowles investigated how attention to others varies by social class.  Their findings can inform design decisions and also help explain puzzling design research outcomes, as well as discrepancies between executive and lower level employee perceptions of distractions in workspaces, for example.  Dietze and Knowles learned that “people’s [perception of their own] social class affects their appraisals of others’ motivational relevance—the degree to which others are seen as potentially rewarding, threatening, or otherwise worth attending to. . . . wearable technology was used to film the visual fields of pedestrians on city streets; higher-class participants looked less at other people than did lower-class participants. . . . [in additional studies] participants’ eye movements were tracked while they viewed street scenes; higher class was associated with reduced attention to people in the images. . . . [and] a change-detection procedure assessed the degree to which human faces spontaneously attract visual attention; faces proved less effective at drawing the attention of high-class than low-class participants, which implies that class affects spontaneous relevance appraisals.” More details on the final study:  people who perceived that they were in a higher social class took longer to notice changes in faces than individuals who categorized themselves as in lower social classes but social class didn’t influence speed of response to changes in objects.

Pia Dietze and Eric Knowles.  “Social Class and the Motivational Relevance of Other Human Beings: Evidence from Visual Attention.”  Psychological Science, in press.

Now there are even more reasons to make sure people exercising can listen to music.  Stork and Ginis “investigated the impact of listening to music during exercise on perceived enjoyment, attitudes and intentions towards sprint interval training (SIT). Twenty men . . . and women . . . unfamiliar with SIT exercise completed two acute sessions of SIT, one with and one without music. . . . Attitudes towards SIT were significantly more positive following the music than no music condition. . . . participants had relatively positive attitudes and intentions towards SIT, which did not become more negative despite experiencing intense SIT protocols.”

Matthew Stork and Kathleen Ginis.  “Listening to Music During Sprint Interval Exercise:  The Impact on Exercise Attitudes and Intentions.”  Journal of Sports Sciences, in press.

A new tool supports the development of design solutions that are good for both people and the planet. Portico is “an online tool used for the selection and specification of healthy products and materials for the built environment. The web service integrates healthy materials evaluation and project management-related functionalities with an extensive product database. Owned by Healthy Building Network, Portico was created in partnership with Google Real Estate and Workplace Services (REWS) team. Portico leverages a 40,000+ Chemical and Material Library (from HBN’s Pharos Project) for health and environmental hazard screening, assessment and certification information. . . . Using Portico, owners and operators benefit by being able to define their healthy materials priorities and criteria at the beginning of a project and track progress against them in real time. . . . . Through Portico, architects, designers, and contractors are empowered with product information that is transparent, actionable and backed by scientific evidence and rigorous standards. . . . With built in functionalities to evaluate bids and approve substitution requests against a project’s healthy materials criteria, Portico is designed to integrate with the project workflow and milestones. . . . Portico enables a direct channel of communication between manufacturers and their customers. ” More information about Portico is available at the web address noted below.

A study lead by Rioux in France provides additional insights into how urban design can influence walking.  The researchers compared “walking patterns in two neighborhoods with different numbers of parks; parks did not differ in rated attractiveness nor did neighborhoods differ substantially in rated walkability.”  Data were collected from people 32 to 86 years old.  When these individuals “drew their 3 most recent walking routes on maps of their neighborhood. Analyses showed that participants’ round trips were longer by 265.5 m (0.16 mile) in the neighborhood with a single, large, centrally located park [a statistically significant difference]. However, participants in the neighborhood with multiple, small, more distributed parks, visited more streets, [a statistically significant difference], more streets with green spaces, [also a statistically significant difference], and used more varied routes [another statistically significant difference]. . . . Large centralized parks may invite longer walks; smaller, well-distributed parks may invite more varied routes.”

Liliane Rioux, Carol Werner, Rene Mokounkolo, and Barbara Brown.  “Walking in Two French Neighborhoods:  A Study of How Park Numbers and Locations Relate to Everyday Walking.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press.

Research by Dobricki and Pauli confirms that the experience of walking through a space, literally, affects emotional response to it.  As the team details “we asked healthy humans to explore a life-sized Virtual Reality simulation of a forest glade by physically walking around in this environment on two narrow rectangular platforms connected by a plank.”  Some participants felt that they were walking on a rigid surface, but for others the ground underfoot seemed “bouncy.” When the virtual environment projections gave the impression that people in the study were high off the ground and walking around “bouncy gait compared to smooth gait increased the orientation of the head below the horizon and intensified the experience of the environment as negative. Whereas, within the ground context [in other words, when people perceived that they were walking on the ground] bouncy gait increased the orientation of the head towards and above the horizon and [intensified the experience of that] environment . . . as positive.”  

Martin Dobricki and Paul Pauli.  2016.  “Sensorimotor Body-Environment Interaction Serves to Regulate Emotional Experience and Exploratory Behavior.” Heliyon, in press.

An article published in PLoS ONE indicates that medieval and modern cities are more similar than you might think.  Cesaretti, Lobo, Bettencourt, Ortman, and Smith have found that “a new look at medieval cities’ population sizes and distributions suggest that some urban characteristics have remained remarkably consistent. . . .in both medieval and modern European cities, larger settlements have predictably higher population densities than smaller cities. . . . the social dynamics enabled by medieval cities were fundamentally similar to those of contemporary cities.” Data from Western Europe were analyzed.

“Study:  Medieval Cities Not So Different from Modern European Cities.”  2016.  Press release, Santa Fe Institute,

Poon and his teammates have determined that nature images can be used to combat aggression; their findings can be applied in a range of spaces where aggressive activities might be anticipated.  As they report “Prior studies have consistently shown that ostracism promotes aggression. The present research investigated the role of nature in reducing aggressive responses following ostracism. Three studies provided . . . support to the prediction that nature exposure can weaken the relationship between ostracism and aggression. Compared with ostracized participants who viewed nature pictures, ostracized participants who viewed urban pictures indicated a higher willingness to assign a longer and colder exposure of painful chilled water to another person . . . reported elevated aggressive urges in hypothetical situations . . . and showed a higher intention to assign a spicier and larger amount of hot sauce to a person who hated spicy food.”

Kai-Tak Poon, Fei Teng, Wing-Yan Wong, and Zhansheng Chen.  “When Nature Heals:  Nature Exposure Moderates the Relationship Between Ostracism and Aggression.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press.


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