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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.

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Coutrot lead a large research team which probed how good people from various parts of the world are at wayfinding.  What they learned may help people who design projects internationally understand differences in wayfinding ability and wayfinding aids needed in different areas. The scientists determined via a mobile video game that tested the spatial navigation ability of over 550,000 people from 57 countries that “Spatial ability of the population of a country is correlated with economic wealth [more wealth, more ability].”  More on the mobile video game used by the researchers: “The game involves navigating a boat in search of sea creatures in order to photograph them. . . . It features two main tasks: wayfinding and path integration. . . . The wayfinding task requires quite elaborate processing, including interpretation of a map, planning a multi-stop route, memory of the route, monitoring progress along the route and updating of route plan, and transformation of birds-eye perspective to an egocentric perspective needed for navigation. . . . In path-integration levels, participants navigate along a river with bends to find a flare gun and then choose which three directions is the correct direction back to the starting point along the Euclidean space.”  Individuals from North America, Australia, New Zealand and Nordic countries (Finland, Denmark, and Norway) have the best spatial navigation abilities.  Via the methodology used, video game playing ability was eliminated as an explanation for the results found.

Antoine Coutrot, Ricardo Silva, Ed Manley, Will de Cothi, Saber Sami, Veronique Bohbot, Jan Wiener, Chrisoph Holscher, Ruth Dalton, Michael Hornberger, and Hugo Spiers. “Global Determinants of Navigation Ability.”  Current Biology, in press, DOI:

Castell, Hecht, and Oberfeld investigated how ceiling color influences how high a ceiling seems to be. As the researchers report, “Previous studies have reported that the perceived height of an interior space is influenced by the luminance [brightness] of the ceiling, but not by the luminance contrast between ceiling and walls: brighter ceilings appeared higher than darker ceilings, irrespective of wall and floor luminance. However, these studies used solely achromatic colors. We report an experiment in which we extend these findings to effects of chromatic ceiling colors.We presented stereoscopic room simulations on a head-mounted display (Oculus Rift DK2) and varied hue (red, green, blue), saturation (low, high), and luminance (bright, dark) of the ceiling independently of each other.We found the previously reported ceiling luminance effect to apply also to chromatic colors: subjects judged brighter ceilings to be higher than darker ceilings. The remaining color dimensions merely had a very small (hue) or virtually no effect (saturation) on perceived height.”

Christoph von Castell, Heiko Hecht, and Daniel Oberfeld.  “Which Attribute of Ceiling Color Influences Perceived Room Height?” Human Factors:  The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, in press,

Peper and colleagues studied how posture influences academic performance and their findings should encourage the development of design options that make good posture more likely. The research team reports that “Half the students [mean age 23.5] sat in an erect position [shoulders relaxed and back] while the other half sat in a slouched position and were asked to mentally subtract 7 serially from 964 for 30 seconds. They then reversed the positions before repeating the math subtraction task beginning at 834. They rated the math task difficulty on a scale from 0 (none) to 10 (extreme). The math test was rated significantly more difficult while sitting slouched . . . than while sitting erect. . . .  Participants with the highest test anxiety, math difficulty and blanking out scores (TAMDBOS) rated the math task significantly more difficult in the slouched position . . . as compared to the erect position. . . . clinicians who work with students who have learning difficulty may improve outcome if they include posture changes.”  

Erik Peper, Richard Harvey, Lauren Mason, and I-Mei Lin.  2018.  “Do Better in Math:  How Your Body Posture May Change Stereotype Threat Response.”  NeuroRegulation, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 67-74,

Warren studies the behavior of people in crowds and reports on his work in a recent article in Current Directions in Psychological Science.  A press release from the Association of Psychological Science describes his findings:  “Since 2016, Warren and his collaborators have been mapping the interactions between larger crowds — 16 to 30 people moving around a virtual space. . . . Through their latest investigations completed in 2018, Warren and his colleagues found that the neighborhood of interaction in human crowds around a person can expand and contract in a donut shape. There is an immediate radius around a walker where they monitor neighbors and attention gradually decreases (the donut hole). This is surrounded by a ring in which attention drops off rapidly (the donut itself), and then decreases to zero at around 16 feet. So whether you recognize it or not, when you’re walking around the mall or on the sidewalk, you carry a meters-wide donut around yourself, avoiding people . . . who are too close, gravitating toward those who are too far away, and matching the direction of everyone your donut holds.”

“How Humans Move With the Crowd.”  2018. Press release, Association for Psychological Science,

Hudson and colleagues have collected additional evidence indicating that our expectations of what we will see have a significant effect on what we perceive.  The investigators found that when “participants observed an actor reach for an object with a straight or arched trajectory on a touch screen. The actions were made efficient or inefficient by adding or removing an obstructing object. The action disappeared mid-trajectory and participants touched the last seen screen position of the hand. Judgements of inefficient actions were biased towards the efficient prediction (straight trajectories upward to avoid the obstruction, arched trajectories downward towards the target).”  So, when humans watched other people doing something, the actions that they believed they saw were affected by what they expected to see the other person do.

Matthew Hudson, Katrina McDonough, Rhys Edwards, and Patric Bach. 2018.  “Perceptual Teleology:  Expectations of Action Efficiency Bias Social Perception.”  Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences, vol. 285, no. 1885, DOI:  10.1098/rspb.2018.0638

Stiglbauer and Weber studied how taking a photo of oneself in a space (a “selfie”) influences place-based experiences.  As they report “Selfies are omnipresent. . . . Selfies are a form of self-expression; but selfie-taking also shapes the selfie-taker’s self.  We argue that taking selfies in a place strengthens selfie-takers’ identification with that place. In three experimental studies . . . the control group took pictures of a place . . . whereas the experimental group took selfies in that place.  Place identification was higher in the selfie condition than in the control condition. . . . Our results suggest that taking selfies in a place can strengthen the linkage between selfie-takers and places.”  It’s important to note that the researchers found that “The effect can reverse for individuals who do not enjoy taking selfies” and that forces such as peer pressure may lead people to take selfies who do not like doing so. Stiglbauer and Weber’s findings are an argument for designing spaces so that they encourage selfie-taking when stronger person-place links are desirable.

Barbara Stiglbauer and Silvana Weber.  “A Picture Paints a Thousand Words:  The Influence of Taking Selfies on Place Identification.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press,

The distance we are from something influences our opinions of it; closer objects areoften liked more than ones that are further away (this is an aspect of the proximity effect). Shin and team report that “our research . . . reflects the latest insight that the mind is shaped by bodily experiences. . . . warmth leads us to see others as trustworthy . . . and heaviness imbues more importance to an object. . . . Our research . . . [finds that] closeness might change how fondly the mind thinks of the object.. . . we asked . . .  participants . . . to rate how much they liked positive (e.g., hamburger, wrapped present) and neutral (bowling ball) nonsocial objects that appeared either close or far from them on the computer screen. The proximity effect again emerged for the positive nonsocial objects . . . but not for the bowling ball. . . . At this point, it appears that the proximity effect . . . extends to nonsocial objects that seem desirable to the perceiver.”

Ji-eun Shin, Eunkook Suh, Norman Li, Kangyong Eo, Sang Chong, and Ming-Hong Tsai.  “Darling, Get Closer to Me:  Spatial Proximity Amplifies Interpersonal Liking.”  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, in press,

What we’ve seen in the past influences what we “see” now.  He, González-García, Baria, Flounders, and Changfound that “a one-time visual experience can shape perceptions afterward. . . . humans recognize what they are looking at by combining current sensory stimuli with comparisons to images stored in memory. . . . A key question in neurology is about how the brain perceives, for instance, that a tiger is nearby based on a glimpse of orange amid the jungle leaves. If the brains of our ancestors matched this incomplete picture with previous danger, they would be more likely to hide, survive, and have descendants. Thus, the modern brain finishes perception puzzles without all the pieces.”

“Past Experience Shape What We See More Thank What We Are Looking at Now.”  2018.  Press release, New York University Langone Health,

Researchers continue to study the consequences of people traveling distracted through spaces because they’re using cell phones.  Alsaleh and team scrutinized the behavior of people in urban crosswalks: “pedestrians distracted by texting/reading (visually) or talking/listening (auditory) while walking tend to reduce and control their walking speed by adjusting their step length or step frequency, respectively. Pedestrians distracted by texting/reading (visually) have significantly lower step length and are less stable in walking. Distracted pedestrians involved in interactions with approaching vehicles tend to reduce and control their walking speeds by adjusting their step frequencies. This research can find applications in pedestrian facility design.”  The findings regarding stability are particularly interesting.

Rushdi Alsaleh, Tarek Sayed, and Mohamed Zaki.  “Assessing the Effect of Pedestrians’ Use of Cell Phones on their Walking Behavior:  A Study Based on Automated Video Analysis.” Transportation Research Record:  Journal of the Transportation Research Board, in press,   


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