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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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Ellard directs the Urban Realities Laboratory at the University of Waterloo.  He reports that some of his Laboratory’s research findings include:  “Street-level facades that are low in visual complexity not only cause participants to self-report lower levels of interest and pleasure, but their levels of autonomic arousal become low.  The biometric signature of a low-complexity street looks very much like the signature shown by participants in laboratory studies who are experiencing states of boredom.”  Also, “Immersion in greenspace in cities, even when it is modest (a community garden in the city) or complicated by potentially unpleasant connotations (a garden in a psychiatric hospital or a cemetery) exerts a profoundly positive effect on emotional state and a lowering of physiological arousal.”  Research findings also indicate that “There is often a mismatch between a participant’s measured physiological state and their own assessment of their state of arousal.  Participants in Mumbai, for instance, reported calmness during a close encounter with chaotic traffic but physiological signatures suggesting high physiological arousal.”

Colin Ellard.  2017.  “A New Agenda for Urban Psychology:  Out of the Laboratory and Onto the Streets.”  Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health, vol. 2,

A recently published study indicates that nature images in a space and being in nature do more than just help people restock their mental processing power and de-stress. Swami and team found that “exposure to images of natural, but not built, environments resulted in improved state body image. . . . [and a] walk in a natural environment resulted in significantly higher state body appreciation [a feature of positive body image], whereas [a] walk in a built environment resulted in significantly lower scores. . . . spending time in the green space led to improved state body appreciation [a feature of positive body image].”

Viren Swami, David Barron, and Adrian Furnham.  2018.  “Exposure to Natural Environments, and Photographs of Natural Environments, Promotes More Positive Body Image.”  Body Image, vol. 24, pp. 82-94,

New research indicates the best sorts of exercise opportunities to provide to employees and other groups.  A press release from the British Psychological Society, reporting on the work of John Hackston, states that “The effectiveness of someone’s exercise regime may depend on their individual personality type. . . . [data collected via surveys determined that] people with extraverted personality types were more likely to prefer exercising at the gym. Staff with a preference for objective logic were also more likely to stick with a regimented exercise plan than those who view feelings and values as being more important. More creatively minded staff, particularly those who enjoy working with new ideas, were much better suited to outdoor activities such as cycling and running when compared to a structured gym regime. . .  Hackston added:. . . ‘Organisations can help their staff to improve their fitness using this research, with increased fitness potentially leading to lower illness-related absences and increased employee satisfaction.’”

“Don’t Like Going to the Gym?  It Could Be Your Personality.”  2018.  Press release, The British Psychological Society,

A research team lead by Siu indicates that children and adults have similar associations to the color red.  This research is important because as Siu and colleagues indicate “Color has been identified as a key consideration in ergonomics.  Color conveys messages and is an important element in safety signs, as it provides extra information to users.”  The researchers report that while previous studies have shown that adults link red with “hazard/hazardous,” their research indicates that children 7 to 11 years old associate red with “don’t.” This information means that the color red is a good choice for warning signage, regardless of viewer age.

Kin Siu, Mei Lam, and Yi Wong.  2017.  “Children’s Choice:  Color Associations in Children’s Safety Sign Design.”  Applied Ergonomics, vol. 59, pp. 56-64.

Whitby links environmental design and positive experiences for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  She reports that “Inclusive design enhances environmental competency and removes barriers to enable people to interact with their surroundings in the way they want to. Two disorders that can affect people's environmental competency are Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This scoping study found that interpersonal interactions were a key barrier to their use of public buildings. Affordances [design options] considered to benefit people with ASD and BPD . . . include . . . Nooks, niches and other semi private seating areas with good visual and territorial control. These areas should have good visibility of wayfinding signage. . . . Range of different lighting conditions and material pallets in different seating areas to allow for a greater range of choice by user. . . . Handrails in non-heavy traffic circulator areas as an alternative to navigating dense crowds. . . . Acoustic isolation between zones of function, with some directional noise information available within each zone. (Someone walking towards etc.).”

Maximilienne Whitby.  2017.  “Scoping of Shared Spatial Needs During Public Building Use:  Autism Spectrum Disorder (Sensory Overload) and Borderline Personality Disorder.”  Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health, vol. 3,

Kuo and her team have learned that outdoor teaching sessions have positive implications after students return to their indoor classrooms.  The researchers report that “Using carefully matched pairs of lessons (one in a relatively natural outdoor setting and one indoors), we observed subsequent classroom engagement during an indoor instructional period. . .  Classroom engagement was significantly better after lessons in nature than after their matched counterparts for four of the five measures developed for this study: teacher ratings; third-party tallies of ‘redirects’ (the number of times the teacher stopped instruction to direct student attention back onto the task at hand); independent, photo-based ratings made blind to condition; and a composite index each showed a nature advantage; student ratings did not. . . . And the magnitude of the advantage was large. . . . The rate of ‘redirects’ was cut almost in half after a lesson in nature, allowing teachers to teach for longer periods uninterrupted. . . . Such ‘refueling in flight’ argues for including more lessons in nature in formal education.”  Lessons outdoors in nature and inside in classrooms were 40 minutes long and the outdoor classroom, in the Midwestern United States, was grass covered and had a view of some woods. Study participants were third graders.

Ming Kuo, Matthew Browning, and Milbert Penner. 2018. “Do Lessons in Nature Boost Subsequent Classroom Engagement?  Refueling Students in Flight.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 8, article, 2253, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02253

Research completed by Lingwood, Blades, Farran, Courbois, and Matthews indicates that children may be better at finding their way through spaces than previously believed, which has repercussions for the design of spaces frequented by children, for example.  The Lingwood-lead team “investigated whether children could learn a route after only a single experience of the route. A total of 80 participants from the United Kingdom in . . . groups of . . . 8-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds, and adults were shown a route through a 12-turn maze in a virtual environment. At each junction, there was a unique object that could be used as a landmark. Participants were ‘walked’ along the route just once (without any verbal prompts) and then were asked to retrace the route from the start without any help. Nearly three quarters of the 12-year-olds, half of the 10-year-olds, and a third of the 8-year-olds retraced the route without any errors the first time they traveled it on their own.”

Jamie Lingwood, Mark Blades, Emily Farran, Yannick Courbois, and Danielle Matthews.  2018.  “Using Virtual Environments to Investigate Wayfinding in 8- to 12-Year-Olds and Adults.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 166, pp. 178-189.

Data collected via a smartphone app confirms that there are psychological benefits to nearby nature.  A press release issued by Kings College reports that Bakolis, Hammond, Smythe, Gibbons, Davidson, Tognin, and Mechelli found that among people in cities “(i) being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birdsong, seeing the sky, and feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing, and that (ii) the beneficial effects of nature were especially evident in those individuals with greater levels of impulsivity who are at greater risk of mental health issues [higher risk of developing addictive disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, antisocial personality disorder and bipolar disorder]. . . . The results showed significant immediate and time lagged associations with mental wellbeing for several natural features: trees, the sky and birdsong. These associations were still evident several hours after exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong had taken place, indicating time-lasting benefits.”  Findings are published in BioScience.  More information about the Urban Mind tool [“an app that measures your experience of city living in the moment”] is available at

“Study Suggests Exposure to Trees, the Sky and Birdsong in Cities Beneficial for Mental Wellbeing.”  2018.  Press release, Kings College London,

O’Hara and her team investigated macrocognition in pediatric intensive care units.  Macrocognition is a scientific term for thinking done in the real world by real people; the alternative is thinking that study participants do in laboratories.  For more on macrocognition, see this brief article:

The O’Hara lead group reports that “A focused ethnographic study was conducted including observation and focus groups. . . . Neighborhoods comprised of corner configurations with maximized visibility enhanced team interactions as well as observation of patients, offering the greatest opportunity for informal situated macrocognitive interactions [informal, thoughtful conversations]. . . . macrocognition is enhanced by. . . . NSs [nursing stations] with visibility within and between other NSs or nurse alcoves and short and straight corridors without columns or walls blocking views (or design layout to increase numbers of corners and maximize views).” O’Hara and team’s work builds on earlier studies which have shown that  “Designs that allow coworkers to see each other in the inpatient or emergency department settings . . . enhanced the relationships between novices and experienced team members, improving task prioritization and increasing overall patient care unit expertise.”

Susan O’Hara, Robin Klar, Emily Patterson, Nancy Morris, Judy Ascenzi, James Fackler, and Donna Perry.  “Macrocognition in the Healthcare Built Environment (MHCBE):  A Focused Ethnographic Study of ‘Neighborhoods’ In a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.” Health Environments Research and Design Journal, in press; DOI: 10.1177/1937586717728484.


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