Latest Blog Posts

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.

To comment on a blog entry, please send an e-mail message to
RSS blog feed: RSS feed - Latest Blog Posts

Trzpuc and her team investigated factors that contribute to the wellbeing of patients in child-adolescent mental health units.  During a study completed at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital Child–Adolescent Mental Health Inpatient Unit they found via patient surveys that  design features in which patients have choice and control offer greater perceptions of calm during their stay in the unit [i.e., patients perceived they were calmer when these opportunities for choice and control were present].”  Data were collected in two areas, one of which had been renovated to provide the opportunities for choice and control mentioned above.  The unrenovated spaces did not provide these options.  The researchers report that in the renovated area Patients are able to control their environment through lighting (dimming and color-changing accents) and music control panels in many of the activity, therapy, and group rooms. Food options further empower patients to exercise choice and control in their daily activities and routines.”  Patients participating in the study ranged from 5 to 18 years old and on average stayed in the unit for 7.5 days. Also, All patients were admitted due to demonstrating acute risk of harm to self or others.”

Stefnee Trzpuc, Karen Wendt, and Susan Heitzman.  2016.  “Does Space Matter?  An Exploratory Study for a Child-Adolescent Mental Health Inpatient Unit.”  HERD:  Health Environments Research and Design Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 23-44.

Getting people to move from floor to floor via the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator can not only save electricity but also make those stair climbers a little healthier. Bellettiere and his colleagues report that “at the San Diego International Airport. . . . prompts [signs] increased the odds of stair use [significantly]. . . . [signs were] effective interventions for active adults and the higher risk population of inactive adults. Signs can prompt stair use in an airport setting and might be employed at most public stairs to increase rates of incidental physical activity and contribute to overall improvements in population health.”  Signs tested, one at a time, at the bottom of a set of stairs and escalators included “Please reserve the escalator for those who need it” and “If you want to feel younger, act younger.  Step it up! Use the stairs” and “You’ll get more stares if you use the stairs.”  When signs were present, roughly two times as many people climbed the stairs.  More details: the signs were posted at “the only stairs/escalators providing access to Terminal 1 from the parking lot.”  The article reporting this research is published in the Journal of Primary Prevention.

John Bellettiere, Sandy Liles, Yael BenPorat, Suzanne Hughes, Brent Bishop, Kristi Robusto, and Melbourne Hovell.  “And She’s Buying a Stairway to Health:  Signs and Participant Factors influencing Stair Ascent at a Public Airport.”  The Journal of Primary Prevention, in press.

Living near a forest is good for our brains.  Kuhn and her team found investigated “the effects of forest, urban green, water and wasteland around [within a one kilometer radius of] the home address. Our results reveal a significant positive association between the coverage of forest and amygdala integrity. . . . it could also be that individuals with high structural integrity choose to live closer to forest.”  In short, people living in urban areas close to forests had healthier brains, ones that coped with stresses more effectively.  Study participants were 61 to 82 years old and the structure of participants’ amygdalas were assessed via MRI.  Some definitions:  “urban green is defined as land for predominantly recreational use including zoos, gardens, parks as well as suburban natural areas used as parks. Forests and other green fields are considered urban green areas in case there are traces of recreational use and they are surrounded by urban structures. . . . forest incorporates all (even privately owned) areas with ground coverage of tree canopy greater than 30% and tree height greater than five metres. . . . water incorporates lakes, rivers, canals exceeding one hectare. . . .  wasteland . . . is defined as areas in the vicinity of artificial surfaces still waiting to be used or re-used.”

Simone Kuhn, Sandra Duzel, Peter Eibich, Christian Krekel, Henry Wustermann, Jens Kolbe, Johan Martensson, Jan Goebel, Jurgen Gallinat, Gert Wagner, and Ulman Lindenberger.  2017, Scientific Reports, vol. 7, article no.:  11920.

Research conducted by Largo-Wight, O’Hara, and Chen confirms earlier research that found that listening to nature sounds, is relaxing.  The trio share that they had participants in their study listen to silence, or nature sounds (ocean waves), or classical music (Mozart)  “for 15 min in an office or waiting room-like environment. . . . [statistical tests] showed a decrease in muscle tension, pulse rate, and self-reported stress in the nature group and no significant differences in the control or the classical music groups. The significant reduction in muscle tension occurred at least by 7 min[utes] of listening to the nature sound.”

Erin Largo-Wight, Brian O’Hara, and W. Chen.  2016.  “The Efficacy of a Brief Nature Sound Intervention on Muscle Tension, Pulse Rate, and Self-Reported Stress.” HERD:  Health Environments Research and Design Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 45-51.

Research indicates that plants can enhance our wellbeing, even when we’re in space.  Space travel can be stressful, it “can cause sleep disorders, a reduction in energy, inattentiveness and difficulty in problem-solving, and even memory loss. It can cause people to be more hostile, act more impulsively and, despite the danger and excitement, is sometimes boring. Any of these conditions and problems can lead to dangerous, if not tragic outcomes.” Odeh and Guy completed  “a review of the existing literature on plant-people interactions. . . . . Numerous studies show that gardening or even just the presence of plants has a positive psychological effect on people, making them happier and more social. Gardening helps people spend time with nature, relax and learn new skills. . . . The authors conclude that what applies to humans on Earth also applies to astronauts in space. Plants can help reduce both social and cognitive problems associated with space travel, and suggest that plants should be part of the design of future space missions for both nutritional – and psychological – reasons.” Odeh and Guy’s study was published in Open Agriculture.

“Space Greens Beat the Blues:  Plants and Psychological Well-Being in Space.”  2017.  Press release:  De Gruyter,

The National Research Council of Canada, Construction Division, has released a new edition of their Guide to Calculating Airborne Sound Transmission in Buildings.  A copy is available free at the web address noted below.  The introduction to the Guide reports that “The International Standards Organization (ISO) has published a calculation method, ISO 15712-1 that uses laboratory test data for sub-assemblies such as walls and floors as inputs for a detailed procedure to calculate the expected sound transmission between adjacent rooms. . . . to use it in a North American context one must overcome two obstacles – incompatibility with the ASTM standards . . . and low accuracy of its predictions for lightweight wood or steel frame construction. To bypass limitations of ISO 15712-1, this Guide explains how to merge ASTM and ISO test data in the ISO calculation procedure, and provides recommendations for applying extended measurement and calculation procedures for specific common types of construction. . . . the calculation procedure outlined and illustrated in this Guide is also used by the software web application soundPATHS, which is available for free on the website of the National Research Council Canada.”

Berndt Zeitler, David Quirt, Christoph Hoeller, Jeffrey Mahn, Stefan Schoenwald, and Ivan Sabourin. 2016.  Guide to Calculating Airborne Sound Transmission in Buildings, Research Report (National Research Council Canada, Construction); no. RR-331,

Feeling crowded affects how many calories we consume.  Hock and Barchi determined via six studies that  “crowding increases calorie consumption.  These effects occur because crowding increases distraction, which hampers cognitive thinking and evokes more affective [emotional mental] processing.  When consumers process information affectively, they consume more calories.”  When people are processing information emotionally, if they're “given a choice between several different options, people select and eat higher-calorie items, but when presented with only one option, people eat more of the same food item.”  It’s important to remember that feeling crowded is subjective; one person may feel crowded in a situation but another individual may not, even though both experience exactly the same conditions.  Research is therefore necessary to determine if particular users are likely to feel crowded in an environment of interest.

Stefan Hock and Rajesh Barchi.  “The Impact of Crowding on Calorie Consumption.”  Journal of Consumer Research, in press.

Research by Eckstein and his team indicates that scale influences perception in intriguing ways.  Eckstein, Koehler, Welbourne, and Akbas found that “Humans often miss giant targets [things they’re looking for] during visual search. . . . Missing giant targets is a functional brain strategy to discount distractors. . . . humans often miss targets when their size is inconsistent with the rest of the scene, even when the targets were made larger and more salient and observers fixated the target.”  This study again links expectations to perceptions and its findings should influence the scale of items presented to users.  In the Eckstein study, if test objects were present, they were included at appropriate scale or at 4 times the scale that would be expected and the oversized objects were missed 13% more often than those of usual size.

Miguel Eckstein, Kathryn Koehler, Lauren Welbourne, and Emre Akbas.  2017.  “Humans, But Not Deep Neural Networks, Often Miss Giant Targets in Scenes.”  Current Biology, vol. 27, no. 18, pp. 2827-2832.

More intense sensory experiences can help restore our self-esteem.  Batra and Ghoshal determined via four studies that “not only do individuals facing self-threat prefer high-intensity sensory consumption (HISC) but also that this consumption restores their self-worth. . . .  The findings are documented in both the visual domain (as evidenced by a preference for more intense and saturated colors) and the auditory domain (as evidenced by a preference for louder audio levels).  The consumption of high-intensity sensory stimuli elevates individuals’ arousal levels, which in turn minimizes rumination [musing] on thoughts related to the threat and thus restores one’s self-worth.  The distractive nature of HISC and its subsequent impact on self-worth restoration is shown to operate regardless of the valence of the sensory consumption [whether it’s positive or negative].”

Rishtee Batra and Tanuka Ghoshal.  “Fill Up Your Senses:  A Theory of Self-Worth Restoration Through High-Intensity Sensory Consumption.”  Journal of Consumer Research, in press.


Subscribe to Latest Blog Posts