Latest Blog Posts

A new article, available free at the web address noted below, indicates the value of rituals in our lives and confirms that design should support ritual behavior.  Gupta reports that“in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, people are being forced to renegotiate rituals large and small. . . . Even when rituals can be tweaked to fit the moment, such as virtual religious services or car parades in place of graduation ceremonies, the experiences don’t carry the same emotional heft as the real thing. That’s because the immutability of rituals — their fixed and often repetitive nature — is core to their definition. . . . So too is the symbolic meaning people attach to behaviors; doing the ritual ‘right’ can matter more than the outcome. . . . rituals help with emotional regulation, particularly during periods of uncertainty, when control over events is not within reach. Rituals also foster social cohesion. Engaging in rituals, in other words, could really help people and societies navigate this new and fraught global landscape.”

Sujata Gupta. 2020.  “Why Do We Miss the Rituals Put On Hold by the COVID-19 Pandemic?”  Science News,

Cai and associates investigated links between hearing road noise and obesity; their findings indicate the value of carefully managing the soundscapes in buildings near roads.  The researchers determined, using data from nearly 500,000 adults in three European regions, that “Environmental stressors such as transport noise may contribute to development of obesity through increased levels of stress hormones, sleep deprivation and endocrine disruption. . . . .The main analyses included 412,934 participants of UK Biobank, 61,032 of Lifelines [the Netherlands] and 30,305 of HUNT3 [Norway], with a mean age of 43–56 years and Lden [residential 24-hour road traffic noise] ranging 42–89 dB(A) across cohorts. In UK Biobank, per 10 dB(A) higher of Lden: BMI was higher by 0.14kg/m2 . . . waist circumference higher by 0.27 cm. . . . Associations were more pronounced among women, those with low physical activity, higher household income or hearing impairment. In HUNT3, associations were observed for obesity . . . among those exposed to Lden greater than 55 dB(A). In contrast, no or negative associations were observed in the Lifelines cohort.”

Yutong Cai, Wilma Zijlema, Elin Sorgjerd, Dany Doiron, Kees de Hoogh, Susan Hodgson, Bruce Wolffenbuttel, John Gulliver, Anna Hansell, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Kazem Rohimi, and Kirsti Kvaloy.  “Impact of Road Traffic Noise on Obesity Measures:  Observational Study of Three European Cohorts.”  Environmental Research, in press,

Portegijs and colleagues studied how neighborhood features influence the (self-reported) physical activity/mobility of older (79-94 year old) residents of a Finnish community. They asked study participants to indicate “destinations perceived to facilitate and barriers perceived to hinder outdoor mobility in their neighborhood. . . . analyses adjusted for age, sex, and physical performance showed that neighborhood destinations increased the odds for higher physical activity when located beyond 500 m from home . . . but not when located solely within 500 m . . . in comparison with when reporting no destinations. In contrast, neighborhood barriers decreased the odds for higher physical activity when solely located within 500 m . . . but not when any barrier was located beyond 500 m . . . compared with when reporting no barriers. . . . Neighborhood barriers to outdoor mobility located close to home were associated with lower physical activity of older adults, whereas barriers further away were not. Attractive destinations for outdoor mobility located further away from home correlated with higher physical activity.”

Erja Portegijs, Kirsi Keskinen, Johanna Eronen, Milla Saajanaho, Merja Rantakokko, and Taina Rantanen.  2020. “Older Adults’ Physical Activity and the Relevance of Distances to Neighborhood Destinations and Barriers to Outdoor Mobility.”  Frontiers in Public Health,

Do people experience art differently in museums and classrooms?  Ishiguro and colleagues report that their study “participants viewed 14 specific artworks before and after participating in the VTS [visual thinking strategies] program. The time that participants spent viewing the art and their evaluations of each picture were measured. The results showed that the artworks in the VTS program were found to be more interesting, better liked, and more beautiful in the museum context compared to the classroom context. However, in terms of interest, the difference in evaluations between the two conditions was mitigated [reduced] as the VTS classes progressed. . . . These findings reveal how educational effects can vary in different settings such as museums and classrooms.”

Chiaki Ishiguro, Yuki Sato, Ai Takahashi, Yuko Abe, Hirotaka Kakizaki, Hiroyuki Okada, Etsuko Kato, and Haruto Takagishi.  “Comparing Effects of Visual Thinking Strategies in a Classroom and a Museum.” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press,

Recently completed research confirms the power of placebos and ways in which they may be useful in design contexts.  A Guevarra-lead team report that researchers worked with two sets of people: “The nondeceptive placebo group members read about placebo effects and were asked to inhale a saline solution nasal spray. They were told that the nasal spray was a placebo that contained no active ingredients but would help reduce their negative feelings if they believed it would. The comparison control group members also inhaled the same saline solution spray, but were told that the spray improved the clarity of the physiological readings the researchers were recording.  The first experiment found that the nondeceptive placebos reduced participants’ self-reported emotional distress. Importantly, the second study showed that nondeceptive placebos reduced electrical brain activity reflecting how much distress someone feels to emotional events, and the reduction in emotional brain activity occurred within just a couple of seconds.”   Findings are published in Nature Communications.

“Placebos Prove Powerful . . . Even When People Know They’re Taking One.”  2020.  Press release, Michigan State University,

Durkin and colleagues link seeing abstract art and more abstract thinking.  They report that “In three different decision making tasks, we found that abstract art evokes a more abstract mindset than representational art. Our data suggest that abstract and representational art have differential effects on cognition. . . .  abstract art was evocative of greater psychological distance. Our data demonstrate that different levels of artistic abstraction evoke different levels of mental abstraction.”

Celia Durkin, Eileen Hartnett, Daphna Shohamy, and Eric Kandel. 2020. “An Objective Evaluation of the Beholder’s Response to Abstract and Figurative Art Based on Construal Level Theory.”  PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,

Pae and Akar determined that the purpose of a walk influences how we walk and our perceptions of that walk’s implications.  The researchers report that they analyzed data from the “2017 [US] National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) data. The sample includes 125,885 adults between the ages of 18 and 64. . . . trip purposes are defined as: home-based work, home-based shopping, home-based recreation, home-based other and non-home-based trips. . . . walking for different trip purposes has different effects on adults’ self-assessed health scores. For instance, an additional 10-min of walking for home-based work trips increases the odds of being in a higher health outcome category by 6 percent, while this effect is smaller for home-based other trips (3 percent). . . . Walking for home-based work trips has the fastest speeds (2.69 miles/hour), followed by walking for home-based recreational trips (2.55 miles/hour). . . . the benefits of walking on health mainly come from home-based walking trips. Planners and decision makers should consider diverse interventions to encourage people to walk within, to and from their neighborhoods.”

Gilsu Pae and Gulsah Akar. 2020.  “Effects of Walking on Self-Assessed Health Status:  Links Between Walking, Trip Purposes and Health.”  Journal of Transport and Health, vol. 18, 100901,

Research completed by McCunn and colleagues confirms the value of allowing people some control over their physical environment. The investigators report that data they collected from nurses working at several locations and analyzed revealed  “A theme of environmental control over both overhead and task lighting. . . .  controllability was among the ‘best’ lighting attributes. . . . Daylighting was also considered to be among the best attributes. Control over light level via additional dimming capability for patients, as well as additional light sources, was prominent. . . . Unique to the more modern facility, trespassing of light was problematic for nurses considering the experiences of patients—even where modern models exist, more attention can be paid to the ways in which window shades, and light sources outside of rooms, penetrate spaces and affect users.. . . Despite differences in the level of sophistication in lighting among the four facilities, control continues to be a primary concern for nurses.”

Lindsay McCunn, Sarah Safranek, Andrea Wilkerson, and Robert Davis.  “Lighting Control in Patient Rooms:  Understanding Nurses’ Perceptions of Hospital Lighting Using Qualitative Methods.”  HERD:  Health Environments Research and Design Journal, in press,

Garnett and colleagues studied how physical distance can nudge people toward particular food choices in cafeterias; using design to encourage specific behaviors is frequently discussed, for example, in the context of supporting healthier living. The Garnett-lead team reports that they “undertook two experimental studies involving 105,143 meal selections in the cafeterias of a British university. Placing vegetarian options first on the counter consistently increased their sales when choices were widely separated (>1.5 m; vegetarian sales as a percentage of total meal sales increased by 4.6 and 6.2 percentage points) but there was no evidence of an effect when the options were close together (<1.0 m). This suggests that order effects depend on the physical distance between options.” Even more concretely:  vegetarian sales increased a statistically significant amount when vegetarian meals were placed so that diners reached them before non-vegetarian options and the spacing between entrees was extended by one meter (sales increased with an 181 cm gap but not one of 85 cm).

Emma Garnett, Theresa Marteau, Chris Sandbrook, Mark Pilling, and Andrew Balmford.  2020.  “Order of Meals at the Counter and Distance Between Options Affect Student Cafeteria Vegetarian Sales.”  Nature Food, vol. 1, pp. 485-488,

Andersen and colleagues studied how playground design influences how children (grades 4 to 9) play. The research team gathered data at three Danish schoolyards and reports that when activity in renovated schoolyards was compared to that in one that was mainly asphalt  “with few features” that “At two schools, time and physical activity increased in the renewed area, but for one school they decreased. The percentage of time spent in MVPA [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] and LPA [light physical activity] only increased in the renewed area at school 1, while the percentage of time and PA [physical activity] decreased in the intervention area at school 3 after renewal. Courts for ballgames, foursquare markings and hills generated activity spots for both genders. Girls were active at a large screen for dancing activities, a lowered multi-court, a spider-web climbing structure and in an area with big tree stumps whereas the boys were active in-between features and on an obstacle trail. These findings emphasize the importance of providing a schoolyard with a variety of functional features close to each other when building activating schoolyards for both genders.”

Henriette Andersen, Lars Christiansen, Charlotte Pawlowski, and Jasper Schipperijn.  2019.  “What We Build Makes a Difference – Mapping Activating Schoolyard Features After Renewal Using GIS, GPS and Accelerometers.”  Landscape and Urban Planning, vol. 191, 103617,


Subscribe to Latest Blog Posts