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Research by Westphal-Fitch and Fitch confirms that visual symmetry is valued by humans.  They learned that “symmetrical patterns are not only used most frequently in real life . . .  [they] are rated as significantly more attractive than are random patterns.”

Gesche Westphal-Fitch and Tecumseh Fitch.  “Beauty for the Eye of the Beholder:  Plane Pattern Perception and Production.”  Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press.

It often seems like a good idea to leave empty space around important texts.  New research indicates that white space may not always be a plus. Kwan, Dai, and Wyer found that via seven field and laboratory studies that “The empty space that surrounds a text message can affect the message’s persuasiveness. . . . people find a message less persuasive, and are less likely to act on its implications, when it is surrounded by empty space than when it is not. . . . message recipients infer that a message conveys a less strong opinion when empty space surrounds it and are consequently less likely to accept its implications.”  This finding may be applied both when written reports, etc., are being prepared, and also when wall-mounted graphics are being developed, for example.

Canice Kwan, Xianchi Dai, and Robert Wyer.  “Contextual Influences on Message Persuasion:  The Effect of Empty Space.”  Journal of Consumer Research, in press.

Research collected from Finnish knowledge workers indicates that both taking a walk in nature at lunchtime and doing relaxation exercises over lunch have about the same effect on how tense employees feel after lunch.  Building spaces that support relaxation exercises, and teaching those exercises to employees, could be a viable alternative to developing nature-based experiences in many locations. For 15 minutes during lunch on 10 consecutive workdays participants in the de Bloom lead study walked in a park, did relaxation exercises, or were in a control group that neither walked nor exercised.  The researchers found that  “both intervention groups [the people taking the walks and the people doing the relaxation exercises] reported less tension after lunch breaks.”  The relaxation exercises included “1) a release-only version of progressive muscle relaxation . . . and 2) a deep breathing and acceptance exercise. . . . These methods were targeted at the most important elements in relaxation: muscle relaxation, deep and slow breathing, and acceptance of the here-and-now.”  In summary, “Both interventions - park walking and relaxation exercises - distract attention from the source of stress (e.g., heavy workload, emotional demands, poorly designed work tasks) and instead aim at alleviating individual strain. . . . Park walking and relaxation exercises activities are fairly easy to learn and implement in an organizational setting, and may assist employees in replenishing the resources needed to perform well on the job during the working day. ”

Jessica de Bloom, Marjaana Sianoja, Kalevi Korpela, Martti Tupmisto, Ansa Lilja, Sabine Geurts, and Ulla Kinnunen.  “Effects of Park Walks and Relaxation Exercises During Lunch Breaks on Recovery from Job Stress:  Two Randomized Controlled Trials.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press.

Shahzad and her team studied some of the implications of user control over temperature in their work areas.  The investigators “compared a workplace, which was designed entirely based on individual control over the thermal environment, to an environment that limited thermal control was provided as a secondary option for fine-tuning: Norwegian cellular and British open plan offices. The Norwegian approach provided each user with control over a window, door, blinds, heating and cooling as the main thermal control system. In contrast, the British practice provided a uniform thermal environment with limited openable windows and blinds to refine the thermal environment for occupants seated around the perimeter of the building. . . . The results showed a 30% higher satisfaction and 18% higher comfort level in the Norwegian offices compared to the British practices. However, the energy consumption of the Norwegian case studies was much higher compared to the British ones.”

Sally Shahzad, John Brennan, Dimitris Theodossopoulos, Ben Hughes and John Calautit.  2017.  “A Study of the Impact of Individual Thermal Control on User Comfort in the Workplace:  Norwegian Cellular Vs. British Open Plan Offices.”  Architectural Science Review, vol. 60,no. 1, pp. 49-61.

Zuniga-Teran and her team have extensively investigated how neighborhood design influences physical activity and wellbeing.  They studied “four types of neighborhood designs: traditional development [these include homes and accessible commercial spaces], suburban development, enclosed [gated] community, and cluster housing development [which generally preserve natural/green spaces and include townhouse-type homes], and assess their level of walkability and their effects on physical activity and wellbeing. . . . traditional development showed . . . the highest value for walkability, as well as for each of the two types of walking (recreation and transportation) representing physical activity [so people living in traditional developments walked the most]. Suburban development showed . . . the highest mean values for mental health and wellbeing. Cluster housing . . .  [had the] highest mean value for social interactions with neighbors and for perceived safety from crime. Enclosed community did not obtain the highest means for any wellbeing benefit [even perceived safety]. . . . This study provides empirical evidence of the importance of including vegetation, particularly trees, throughout neighborhoods in order to increase physical activity and wellbeing. Likewise, the results suggest that regular maintenance is an important strategy to improve mental health and overall wellbeing in cities.”  People in traditional types of communities, on average, scored lowest for mental wellbeing and highest for perceived crime in their neighborhood.

Adriana Zuniga-Teran, Barron Orr, Randy Gimblett, Nader Chalfoun, David Guertin, and Stuart Marsh.  2017.  “Neighborhood Design, Physical Activity, and Wellbeing:  Applying the Walkability Model.”  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 14, no. 1, p. 76.

Designing spaces that will be used frequently by teenagers requires a great deal of careful planning. People designing places that will be used by teenagers should be aware that some teenagers are less likely to learn from past negative experiences about how they should behave in the future than others (McCormick and Telze, 2017).  Laurence Steinberg, a professor at Temple University, has long reported that “For teens, a tendency toward dangerous behavior is hard-wired into the brain;” he discusses this topic in a video, here:

Ethan McCormick and Eva Telze.  2017.  “Failure to Retreat:  Blunted Sensitivity to Negative Feedback Supports Risky Behavior in Adolescents.”  NeuroImage, vol. 147, pp. 381-389.

The way that “hotspots” such as parks or nearby noisy highways influence the evaluation of other spaces, such as homes for sale, has been carefully studied.  Blaison, Gollwitzer, and Hess found that “Irrespective of intrinsic [inherent] neighborhood attractiveness, pleasantness ratings went up with increasing distance from negative hotspots [that noisy highway]. . . . negative hotspots are much more harmful to attractive neighborhoods than to unattractive ones. Indeed, the more distant locations of unattractive neighborhoods even ‘benefit’ from a contrast effect that makes these places look nicer in comparison to places that are located closer [to that negative hotspot]. . . . . [Neighborhood attractiveness] . . . influenced the evaluation of the hotspot itself. An urban park was seen as less attractive in a highly salient [noticeable] unattractive neighborhood than in an attractive one.”  

Christophe Blaison, Mario Gollwitzer, and Ursula Hess.  “Effects of ‘Hotspots’ as a Function of Intrinsic Neighborhood Attractiveness.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press.

Bedrosian and Nelson studied how being exposed to light at night influences wellbeing and mood.  They share that “Many systems are under circadian control, including sleep–wake behavior, hormone secretion, cellular function and gene expression. Circadian disruption by nighttime light perturbs those processes and is associated with increasing incidence of certain cancers, metabolic dysfunction and mood disorders. . . . Converging evidence suggests that circadian disruption alters the function of brain regions involved in emotion and mood regulation.”  Light at night seems to negatively affect mood throughout the day.  Ways to reduce circadian system disruption by artificial nighttime light mentioned by Bedrosian and Nelson include “‘Smart’ homes and ‘smart’ lighting fixtures [that] use precise LEDs to adjust the wavelength of light depending on the time of day. . . . New street light designs are being introduced to focus the light toward the street and avoid upward light leakage. And heavy black out curtains impermeable to light are being adopted for bedroom use.”

T. Bedrosian and R. Nelson.  2017.  “Timing of Light Exposure Affects Mood and Brain Circuits.”  Translational Psychiatry, vol. 7,

Krause and North researched how music-playlist preferences vary by time of year.  They report that “The literature concerning seasonal correlates of mood and behavior suggests that colder weather is associated with low activity and a reflective cognitive style, whereas warmer weather is associated with higher activity levels. Analyses of the season-based music-playlist preferences of 402 participants . . . demonstrate listener preferences for Arousing music for the warmer months, Serene music for spring, and Melancholy music for the cooler months.”  These findings can inform the design of seasonally used places/objects/services, generally.

Amanda Krause and Adrian North.  “Tis the Season:  Music-Playlist Preferences for the Seasons. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press.

Faraji-Rad and Pham wondered how uncertainty affects how people think.  They found that thinking about uncertainty/feeling uncertain increases “reliance on affective [emotional] inputs in judgments and decisions. . . . uncertainty [was] shown to amplify the effects of the pleasantness of a musical soundtrack, the attractiveness of a picture, the appeal of affective attributes, incidental mood states” on judgments/decisions made – for example, the effect of the picture on a television screen on evaluations of that television was influenced by whether the people assessing it were feeling uncertain or not. As the researchers state, thinking about uncertainty/feeling uncertain “increases the effect of momentary feelings on consumers’ decisions and product evaluations. . . . the priming of uncertainty (vs. certainty) increases the relative preference for options that are affectively superior over options that are functionally superior.” The researchers report that “states of uncertainty—that need not be related to the decisions that people face—influence the way people make decisions.”

Ali Faraji-Rad and Michel Pham.  “Uncertainty Increases the Reliance on Affect in Decisions.”  Journal of Consumer Research, in press.


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