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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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Van Geert and Wagemans researched how image order and complexity are related to preference for images. They “explored which factors might contribute to aesthetic preferences for . . . images of a set of objects, or parts of objects, organized in a neatly or tidy way. . . Images high in order and high in complexity were perceived as more fascinating, whereas images high in order but low in complexity were perceived as more soothing. . . . In general, images of neatly organized compositions were perceived as pleasant to look at. . . . both soothingness and fascination seemed to relate positively with aesthetic preferences [so greater levels of soothingness and of fascination were linked to higher preference].”  Ratings of order, complexity, fascination, and soothingness were all perceptions of study participants.  The researchers “define objective complexity as aspects related to the quantity and variety of information in the stimulus, and objective order as aspects related to the structure and organization of the information in the stimulus (Van Geert & Wagemans, 2019).”

Eline Van Geert and Johan Wagemans.  “Order, Complexity, and Aesthetic Preferences for Neatly Organized Compositions.”  Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press,

Christensen, Lindén, Nakamura, and Barkat determined that white noise can improve ability to hear other sounds and their work is published in Cell Reports.  The investigators found via studies with mice that “With a background of continuous white noise, hearing pure sounds becomes even more precise. . . .the more precisely we can distinguish sound patterns, the better our hearing is. But how does the brain manage to distinguish between relevant and less relevant information – especially in an environment with background noise? . . . The team was able to demonstrate that the brain’s ability to distinguish subtle tone differences improved when white noise was added to the background. Compared to a quiet environment, the noise thus facilitated auditory perception.”

“Good Noise, Bad Noise: White Noise Improves Hearing.” 2019.  Press release, University of Basel,

Research indicates that listening to instrumental music can relieve cardiac stress.  A press release reporting research by Alves, Garner, do Amaral, Oliveira and Valenti states “Stress while driving is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac complications such as heart attack (myocardial infarction), according to studies published in recent years. . . . A study by researchers at São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Marília, Brazil, suggests that listening to instrumental music [while driving during rush hour], for example, may relieve cardiac stress [comparison condition was not listening to music].”  Cardiac stress was estimated via measurements of heart rate variability.  Study findings are published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

“Listening to Music While Driving Reduces Cardiac Stress.”  2019. Press release [Elton Allison] Agência FAPESP,

Laurent and colleagues confirm the value of spending time in both “real” and “virtual” nature.  The team report that they  “conduct[ed] an experiment with healthy undergraduate students that tests the effects of six minutes of outdoor nature exposure with six minutes of exposure to a 360-degree VR [virtual reality] nature video, which is recorded at the outdoor nature exposure location. . . . We find that both types of nature exposure increase physiological arousal, benefit positive mood levels, and are restorative compared to an indoor setting without nature; however, for outdoor exposure, positive mood levels increase and for virtual nature, they stay the same. . . . Settings where people have limited access to nature might consider using VR nature experiences to promote emotional health.”

Heidemarie Laurent, Steven LaValle, Katherine Mimnaugh, and Matthew Browning.  “Can Simulated Nature Support Health?  Comparing Short, Single-Doses of 360-Degree Nature Videos in Virtual Reality with the Outdoors.”Frontiers in Psychology, in press, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02667

Crossan and Salmoni’s work confirms previous studies which have determined that nature experiences are mentally refreshing.  The research team reports that “Attention restoration theory (ART) predicts that top-down processing during everyday activities can cause attentional fatigue and that bottom-up processing that occurs when people experience nature will be restorative. This study exposed participants to three different conditions . . . : a control condition during which participants walked on a typical treadmill; a nature condition during which participants walked on the same treadmill, experiencing a simulated nature walk; and a perturbation condition that included the same simulated nature scene but also required top-down processing during the walk. The findings supported ART predictions. . . . . top-down processing [note the description of this sort of mental work, above] in a simulated natural environment nullified the restorative effects and the nature condition produced a significant improvement in directed attention performance compared to the control and perturbation conditions after a 10-min walk.”

Corey Crossan and Alan Salmoni.  “A Simulated Walk in Nature:  Testing Predictions from the Attention Restoration Theory.”  Environment and Behavior, in press,

A press release from Drexel indicates that plants may not be as effective at cleaning indoor air as thought.   This finding does not relate to plants’ ability to support cognitive refreshment, professional performance, and creativity, for example, as reported previously by Research Design Connections.  The Drexel team (Waring and Cummings) found that “Plants can help spruce up a home or office space, but claims about their ability to improve the air quality are vastly overstated. . . . A closer look at decades of research suggesting that potted plants can improve the air in homes and offices reveals that natural ventilation far outpaces plants when it comes to cleaning the air.‘This has been a common misconception for some time. Plants are great, but they don’t actually clean indoor air quickly enough to have an effect on the air quality of your home or office environment,’ said [Waring]. . . . according to Waring and Cummings’s calculations, it would take between 100 and 1,000 plants per square meter of floor space to compete with the air cleaning capacity of a building’s air handling system or even just a couple open windows in a house.” The Waring/Cummings study was published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

“Study:  Actually, Potted Plants Don’t Improve Air Quality.”  2019.  Press release, Drexel University,

Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, indicates that the temperature and air quality in K-12 classrooms may be degrading students’ ability to learn.  A press release from Davis, reporting on a study from UC Davis and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) published in Building and Environment,states that “Roughly 85 percent of recently installed HVAC systems in K-12 classrooms investigated in California did not provide adequate ventilation. . . . researchers visited 104 classrooms . . . that had been retrofitted with new heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, units in the past three years. . . . ‘Previous research has shown that under-ventilation of classrooms is common and negatively impacts student health and learning,’ [quote attributed to Rengie Chan from Berkeley Lab]. . . .ASHRAE, a global professional society that sets standards for building performance, specifies a minimum ventilation rate for classrooms of 15 cubic feet per minute per person. . . .researchers found only about 15 percent of classrooms met the ventilation standard.. . . thermal comfort impacts student performance. . . . about 60 percent of the classrooms were warmer than the recommended average maximum temperature range of 73 F.”  

“Are Students Getting Enough Air?  Many California Classrooms Don’t Have Sufficient Ventilation.”  2019.  Press release, University of California Davis,

Recently completed research confirms that humans are indeed fascinating creatures and that their sensory systems work in intriguing ways.  Murugesu states that “The olfactory bulb, a structure at the very front of the brain, plays a vital role in our ability to smell. Or, at least, so we thought. A research team has now discovered a handful of women who have a perfectly normal sense of smell but who seem to lack olfactory bulbs – completely altering our long-held views about smell.”  The study reporting these findings is published in Neuron and written by Weiss, Soroka, Gorodisky, Shushan, Snitz, Weissgross, Furman-Haran, Dhollander, and Sobel.

Jason Murugesu.  2019. “Some Women Lack Odour-Detecting Part of Brain But Still Sense Smells.” New Scientist,

Crede and team evaluated how effective different sorts of landmarks are at helping people find their way through a space.  They define global landmarks as visible throughout a trip while local landmarks can be seen at specific points and not continuously.  Local landmarks are “sequentially visible” while global landmarks are “simultaneously visible.”  The investigators lreport that “our results have direct practical implications for the design of future digital navigation assistance systems that would support survey knowledge acquisition even while a navigator is multi-tasking. . . .  Our results suggest that it is important to emphasize global landmarks dynamically on digital navigation systems to prevent disorientation and support spatial knowledge acquisition.”  

Sascha Crede, Tyler Thrash, Christoph Holscher, and Sara Fabrikant. “The Advantage of Globally Visible Landmarks for Spatial Learning.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press,


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