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The lighting in hospital intensive care units influences patients' wellbeing, even a year after they are discharged from the hospital.  Researchers have found that “With light adapted to the time of day, health even improves for patients who are barely conscious when they are admitted for care. . . . In order to counterbalance the traditional ICU department with low levels of daylight and nights when lighting is frequently turned on [researchers tested an] experimental environment with so-called cyclical lighting that changed during the day. . . . Mornings began with a weak, reddish dawn light, which, at around 8 am turned to a strong, blue light similar to daylight. In the middle of the day, the strength of the light was reduced slightly so that patients would also be able to experience existing daylight to subsequently be increased again in the afternoon.  Towards the evening, the light became weaker and warmer again. At that time, the light sources were also placed at a lower height; in the evening only a weak and warm light was emitted from the skirting boards. . . . ‘The patients were very satisfied with the lighting environment. It had a calming function and helped in supporting the circadian rhythm. . . .’ says Marie Engwall. . . . [a survey conducted 12 months after their discharge from the hospital found that] ‘Patients cared for in our experimental room demonstrated significantly better self-rated recovery . . . compared to patients in the control group. . . .’ says Marie Engwall.”

“Patients in Intensive Care Feel Better with Light Adapted to the Time of Day.”  2017.  Press release, University of Gothenburg,

In visual fractals the same patterns repeat at different scales.  For illustrations of fractals, see

Taylor and Spehar report that seeing moderately complex fractals reduces stress:  “Humans are continually exposed to the rich visual complexity generated by the repetition of fractal patterns at different size scales. Fractals are prevalent in natural scenery [for example]. . . . we . . . investigate the powerful significance of fractals for the human visual system. In particular, we propose that fractals with midrange complexity (D = 1.3–1.5 measured on a scale between D = 1.1 for low complexity and D = 1.9 for high complexity) play a unique role in our visual experiences because the visual system has adapted to these prevalent natural patterns. . . . the visual system processes mid-D fractals with relative ease. This fluency optimizes the observer’s capabilities (such as enhanced attention and pattern recognition) and generates an aesthetic experience accompanied by a reduction in the observer’s physiological stress levels.”

Richard Taylor and Branka Spehar.  2016.  “Fractal Fluency:  An Intimate Relationship Between the Brain and Processing of Fractal Stimuli.”  In A. Di Ieva (ed.) The Fractal Geometry of the Brain, Springer:  New York, pp. 485-496.

Batra and his colleagues investigated the relationship between tasting spicy food or seeing spicy food and how aggressive people are.  They found that “consumption of, and even mere exposure to spicy food [seeing pictures of it, for example], can semantically activate concepts related to aggression as well as lead to higher levels of perceived aggressive intent in others.”  These findings indicate that care should be exercised when using images of spicy foods to decorate spaces, etc. and also that the design of spaces where spicy foods are likely to be consumed should be relatively calming, to at least partially compensate for the effects that spicy food seen or consumed has on aggression.

Rishtee Batra, Tanuka Ghoshal, and Rajagopal Raghunathan.  2017.  “You Are What You Eat:  An Empirical Investigation of the Relationship Between Spicy Food and Aggressive Cognition.”  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 71, pp. 42-48. 

Hearing nature sounds does indeed relax people who are stressed.  Van Praag and her team report that their “findings may help explain reported health benefits of exposure to natural environments, through identification of alterations to autonomic activity and functional coupling within the DMN [default mode network of the brain] when listening to naturalistic sounds.”  Natural sounds that are relaxing include, for example, gently moving water (think: burbling brooks) and leaves rustling in a gentle breeze.

Cassandra van Praag, Sarah Garfinkel, Oliver Sparasci, Alex Mees, Andrew Philippides, Mark Ware, Cristina Ottaviani, and Hugo Critchley.  2017.  “Mind-Wandering and Alterations to Default Mode Network Connectivity When Listening to Naturalistic Versus Artificial Sounds.”  Scientific Reports, vol. 7, article number 45273. 

Trying to solve a difficult problem?  Imagine a dialogue between people with various viewpoints on the issue to be resolved—that fantasy conversation will dramatically increase your understanding of relevant topics (Zavala and Kuhn, in press).

An Association for Psychological Science press release related to Zavala and Kuhn’s article shares that “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning. . . .‘Envisioning opposing views leads to a more comprehensive examination of the issue,’ says psychology researcher Julia Zavala. . . . ‘the dialogic task . . . lead to deeper, more comprehensive processing of the two positions and hence a richer representation of each and the differences between them,’ says Kuhn.  Constructing a dialogue thus helped to expand and sharpen . . . thinking.”

“Imagining Dialogue Can Boost Critical Thinking.”  2017.  Press release, Association for Psychological Science,

Julia Zavala and Deanna Kuhn.  “Solitary Discourse Is a Productive Activity.”  Psychological Science, in press.

Schutte and her team have learned that time spent in virtual reality nature, compared to time spent in virtual reality urban spaces, can lead to better moods.  Also, people who experience virtual reality nature believe that they are more refreshed mentally (in other words, that they are more cognitively restored) after spending time there than the people placed in the virtual urban places.  The researchers immersed users in 360-degree natural or urban interactive virtual environments and learned that “Virtual reality experience of a natural environment compared to virtual reality experience of an urban environment resulted in higher levels of positive affect [mood] and a greater perception of restorativeness. . . . Virtual reality technology may have the potential to enhance well-being.”  Schutte and colleagues’ insights may be particularly useful when virtual reality experiences are being developed to optimize workplace performance, etc.

Nicola Schutte, Navjot Bhullar, Emma Stilinovic, and Katheryn Richardson.  2017.  “The Impact of Virtual Environments on Restorativeness and Affect.”  Ecopsychology, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-7.

Halali and colleagues learned that just thinking about temperature has a serious effect on how our brains work.  After the researchers got people thinking about temperature, by, for example, showing them various landscapes “associated with cool vs. warm temperatures [and asking them to imagine themselves in the location shown] . . . . cool compared to warm temperatures lead to improved performance on . . . an established cognitive control measure.”  Landscapes viewed were cold and snowy or warm and sunny, for example.  When people have less cognitive control, their ability to pay attention and process emotional information appropriately may be impaired, for example.

E. Halali, N. Meiran, and I. Shalev.  2017.  “Keep It Cool:  Temperature Priming Effect on Cognitive Control.”  Psychological Research, vol. 81, no. 2, pp. 343-354.

Bellezza, Paharia, and Keinan found that people link appearing busy with perceived higher status, at least in American workplaces.  Their findings indicate that it may be desirable to eliminate visual shielding around some busy people, in the US, for example, those doing work that doesn’t require them to focus.  The Bellezza team determined that “Americans increasingly perceive busy and overworked people as having high status. . . . the authors conducted a series of studies, drawing participants mostly from Italy and the US. While busyness at work is associated with high status among Americans, the effect is reversed for Italians, who still view a leisurely life as representative of high status.”

“Lack of Leisure:  Is Busyness the New Status Symbol.”  2017.  Press release, Journal of Consumer Research,

Altmann and David Hambrick confirm that mental interruptions can impede performance.  They report that  “As steps of a procedure are performed more quickly, memory for past performance . . . become less accurate, increasing the rate of skipped or repeated steps after an interruption. We found this effect, with practice generally improving speed and accuracy, but impairing accuracy after interruptions. . . . In practical terms, the results suggest that practice can be a risk factor for procedural errors in task environments with a high incidence of task interruption.”  These findings have implications for workplace and healthcare design, for example.

Erik Altmann and David Hambrick.  “Practice Increases Procedural Errors After Task Interruption.”  Journal of Experimental Psychology:  General, in press.

Sanders has reviewed the research on the effects of smart phone based navigation tools on our ability to find our way through spaces without them, among other topics.  As she reports, “Instead of checking a map and planning a route before a trip, people can now rely on their smartphones to do the work for them. . . .  Our navigational skills may be at risk as we shift to neurologically easier ways to find our way, says cognitive neuroscientist Véronique Bohbot of McGill University in Montreal.  Historically, getting to the right destination required a person to have the lay of the land, a mental map of the terrain. That strategy takes more work than one that’s called a ‘response strategy,’ the type of navigating that starts with an electronic voice command. . . .  A response strategy is easier, but it leaves people with less knowledge. People who walked through a town in Japan with human guides did a better job later navigating the same route than people who had walked with GPS as a companion, researchers have found.”  Use of GPS-type apps to navigate through spaces may ultimately have implications for wayfinding signage/systems, inside and out.  More signage may need to be posted, for example, so it is available to assist visitors who used electronic systems to initially guide their travels through an area, but whose GPS-type navigation aids are unavailable temporarily.

Laura Sanders.  2017.  “Smartphones May Be Changing the Way We Think.”  Science News, vol. 191, no. 6, p. 18 OR


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