RDC Blog

January 2012

Welcome to the Research Design Connections blog, started in 2007. Recent blog entries are available here. Earlier blog entries (one for every working day since the beginning of May, 2007) are available to subscribers.

This is a forum to discuss recent research of interest to designers. To comment on a blog entry, please send an e-mail message to sallyaugustin@researchdesignconnections.com.

September 2014

Cacciamani’s doctoral work at the University of Arizona indicates that your eyes aren’t telling you the whole story of what’s in the world around you.  Cacciamani’s research, published in Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, determined that “objects in our visual environment needn’t be seen in order to impact decision making.”  As a press release from the University of Arizona states, “Take a look around, and what do you see? Much more than you think you do, thanks to your finely tuned mind's eye, which processes images without your even knowing. . . . [Cacciamani’s findings] refute traditional ideas about visual perception and cognition, and they could shed light on why we sometimes make decisions -- stepping into a street, choosing not to merge into a traffic lane -- without really knowing why. . . .’Your brain is always monitoring for meaning in the world, to be aware of your general surroundings and potential predators,’ Cacciamani said. ‘You can be focused on a task, but your brain is assessing the meaning of everything around you – even objects that you’re not consciously perceiving.’”

“Don’t Underestimate Your Mind’s Eye.”  2014.  Press release, University of Arizona, http://uanews.org/story/don-t-underestimate-your-mind-s-eye.

September 2014

Research by Newman, Bartels, and Smith sheds light on why we become so attached to artworks.  They learned that “art objects are seen as physical extensions of their creators.” A press release issued by Topics in Cognitive Science, quotes study author Newman: "’One prediction that comes out of this idea is that artwork that seems like it has really had a lot of close physical contact with the artist, i.e., you can see evidence of his or her 'hand,' may be preferred to art where that direct physical connection is less obvious.’”

George Newman, Daniel Bartels, and Rosanna Smith.  “Are Artworks More Like People Than Artifacts?  Individual Concepts and Their Extensions.”  Topics in Cognitive Science, in press.

September 2014

Researchers have learned that youth are more likely to exercise in certain sorts of outdoor environments than others.  Stanis, Oftedal, and Schneider found via a study that was published in Preventative Medicine that “cities with more nature trails have higher levels of youth activity and lower youth obesity. . . . increased access to non-motorized nature trails is associated with increased youth physical activity and lower levels of youth obesity, while increased access to nature preserves was associated with lower levels of physical activity. Public forest land was also associated with higher activity rates; the researchers did not find any relationship among parklands and activity or obesity rates.”

“Increased Access to Nature Trails, Forest Lands—Not Nature Preserves—Could Decrease Youth Obesity Rates, MU Study Finds.”  2014.  Press release, University of Missouri, http://www.missouri.edu.

September 2014

Networking can make some people feel dirty according to a study that will soon be published in Administrative Science Quarterly.  Researchers have found that “Professional networking can create feelings of moral impurity and physical dirtiness.” This finding supports including, for example, materials that are less likely to show dirt in areas where people will be networking as well as lots of bathrooms (for hand washing).

“Networking Can Make Some Feel ‘Dirty,’ New Study.”  2014.  Press release, University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management, http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca.

September 2014

Moms who live in greener spaces give birth to healthier children.  Hystad and his team conducted an elaborate study examining, “associations between residential greenness (measured using satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) within 100 meters of study participants’ homes) and birth outcomes in a cohort of 64,705 singleton births [one baby at a time, not twins, etc.]  (from 1999–2002) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.”  They determined, after eliminating other potential explanations, such as neighborhood air pollution, noise, walkability, and distance to the nearest park, that “Increased residential greenness was associated with beneficial birth outcomes in this population-based cohort,” such as higher birth weights and fewer preterm births.

Perry Hystad, Hugh Davies, Lawrence Frank, Josh Van Loon, Ulrike Gehring, Lillian Tamburic, and Michael Brauer.  “Residential Greenness and Birth Outcomes:  Evaluating the Influence of Spatially Correlated Built-Environment Factors.”  Environmental Health Perspectives, in press.

September 2014

Researchers have come up with additional evidence that it’s important to design workplaces and other environments to encourage walking.  A team based at Indiana University found that “three easy -- one could even say slow [study participants walked at the speed of 2 mph] -- five-minute walks can reverse harm caused to leg arteries during three hours of prolonged sitting.  . . . When people sit, slack muscles do not contract to effectively pump blood to the heart. Blood can pool in the legs and affect the endothelial function of arteries, or the ability of blood vessels to expand from increased blood flow. . . . . The study participants who walked for five minutes for each hour of sitting saw their arterial function stay the same -- it did not drop throughout the three-hour period.”  The therapeutic 5-minute walks were taken “at the 30-minute mark, 1.5-hour mark and 2.5-hour mark” of the test period.

“Short Walking Breaks Found to Reverse Negative Effects of Prolonged Sitting.”  2014.  Press release, Indiana University, http://news.indiana.edu.

September 2014

A new methodology for assessing reactions to urban spaces is being used by researchers at the universities in Heidelberg and Kaiserslautern.  Specifically, since “sustainable urban design needs to take into account citizens’ emotional responses to their environment. . . . scientists . . . are developing creative methods to capture information about those feelings from user-generated data. The data is intended to show how citizens use their city, where they feel comfortable and what conditions can evolve into problematic situations. . . . To automatically measure emotions and stress levels, the researchers outfit their test subjects with sensors, similar to a wristwatch.”  This sensor can collect data on skin conductance (which changes, for example, if people start to sweat), body temperature, and heart rate.  As the researchers detail, “Measurements can point to stress-inducing trouble spots in need of improvement, such as bike paths where cyclists continually encounter dangerous situations. . . . The data is also expected to provide insight into stress caused by noise and heat, as well as the positive impact of urban planning measures such as green space as relaxation areas.” Comments on the places where data are collected via the “wristwatches” are also being gathered from social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, and incorporated into the data set, which will enhance the studies completed.

“Urban Design with Emotions.”  2014.  Press release, Heidelberg University. http://www.uni-heidelberg.de

September 2014

Health economists have identified a link between not driving to work and better mental health.  A press release from the University of East Anglia reports that “Walking or cycling to work is better for people's mental health than driving to work.  . . . people who stopped driving and started walking or cycling to work benefited from improved wellbeing [note, study participants changed their mode of travel to work]. In particular, active commuters felt better able to concentrate and were less under strain than if they travelled by car. These benefits come on top of the physical health benefits of walking and cycling. . . . Experts also found that travelling on public transport is better for people’s psychological wellbeing than driving. . . . This research shows that if new projects such as London’s proposed segregated cycleways, or public transport schemes such as Crossrail, were to encourage commuters to walk or cycle more regularly, then there could be noticeable mental health benefits.”  The researchers found a direct link between wellbeing and length of walk to work, the longer the walk, the better people felt.

“Walking or Cycling to Work Improves Wellbeing, University of East Anglia Researchers Find.”  2014.  Press release, University of East Anglia, http://www.uea.ac.uk

September 2014

Research conducted in Finland supports the design of school playgrounds that encourage active living.  A Finnish team learned that “higher levels of physical activity are related to better academic achievement during the first three school years particularly in boys. . . . Higher levels of physical activity at recess were related to better reading skills and participation in organized sports was linked to higher arithmetic test scores.”   

“High Levels of Physical Activity Linked to Better Academic Performance in Boys.”  2014. Press release, University of Eastern Finland, http://www.uef.fi/fi/uef/home.