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Data collected in Jordan illustrate the complexities of moving into certified-green offices from other types of structures. Researchers report that “localised green building codes, especially in the developing world, often do not systematically recognise IEQ or health as crucial issues. . . . we follow 120 employees of a single organisation as they transition from four conventional office buildings to the first green building (GB), designed to the local Jordanian Green Building Guide. . . . Statistically significant differences in thermal conditions, positively biased towards the GB, were observed across the move, and this enhanced occupant thermal comfort. Surprisingly, no significant improvement in occupant perception of air quality, visual and acoustic comfort was detected after moving to the GB, while odour, mental concentration, and glare were perceived to be poor in the GB. . . . our results support the growing concern that green buildings may create unintended consequences in terms of occupant comfort and health in the pursuit of a better thermal environment and energy efficiency.”
Rana Elnaklah, Ian Walker, and Sukumar Natarajan. “Moving to a Green Building: Indoor Environment Quality, Thermal Comfort and Health.” Building and Environment, in press, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2021.107592
Fay and Maner studied links between physical and social warmth. They found that “Laboratory studies have linked variability in temperature to the psychology of social affiliation. In colder ambient environments, for example, people report greater loneliness, and they pursue both physical warmth and social affiliation (i.e., social warmth). Here, a field experiment tested whether tactile warmth [basically, touching something warm] eliminates the effect of colder ambient temperatures on desires for social affiliation. Consistent with previous research, people expressed greater intentions to affiliate on colder days. However, tactile warmth eliminated this effect. On colder (but not warmer) days exposure to a tactile warmth manipulation eliminated heightened desires for social affiliation. Findings suggest that seemingly subtle changes in temperature can have important implications for the psychology of social affiliation, and such findings apply to real-world contexts outside the laboratory.”
Adam Fay and Jon Maner. 2020. “Interactive Effects of Tactile Warmth and Ambient Temperature on the Search for Social Affiliation.” Social Psychology, vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 199-204, https://doi.org/10.1027/1864-9335/a000407
Hou and colleagues studied brain synchronization between musicians and people listening to their music; potential applications of their findings in other contexts are intriguing. The researchers report that they “used dual near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to assess whether inter-brain synchronization between violinist and audience underlies the popularity of violin performance. In the experiment, individual audience members . . . watched pre-recorded videos, each lasting 100 s or so, in which a violinist performed 12 musical pieces. The results showed that the popularity of the performance correlated with the left-temporal inter-brain coherence (IBC) between the audience and the violinist. . . . Music appreciation involves the brains of music producers and perceivers in a temporally aligned network through which audiences perceive the intentions of the performer and show positive emotions related to the musical performance.”
Yingying Hou, Bei Song, Yinying Hu, Pafend Pan, and Yi Hua. 2020. “The Averaged Inter-Brain Coherence Between the Audience and a Violinist Predicts the Popularity of Violin Performance.” NeuroImage, vol. 211, 116655, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116655
Dzhambov and colleagues studied the effects of indoor and outdoor greenery on the wellbeing of people during the COVID pandemic. They determined via a survey that “Greenery experienced both indoors and outdoors supported mental health. . . . We employed two self-reported measures of greenery experienced indoors (number of houseplants in the home and proportion of exterior greenery visible from inside the home) and two measures of greenery experienced outdoors (presence/absence of a domestic garden and availability of neighborhood greenery). . . . The relative abundance of greenery visible from the home or in the neighborhood was associated with reduced depressive/anxiety symptoms and lower depression/anxiety rates. Having more houseplants or a garden was also associated with some of these markers of mental health. . . . [Study participants] who spent most of their time at home during the COVID-19 epidemic experienced better mental health when exposed to more greenery. Our findings support the idea that exposure to greenery may be a valuable resource during social isolation in the home.”
Angel Dzhambov, Peter Lercher, Matthew Browning, Drozdstoy Stoyanov, Nadezhda Petrova, Stoyan Novakov, and Donka Dimitrova. “Does Greenery Experienced Indoors and Outdoors Provide an Escape and Support Mental Health During the COVID-19 Quarantine?” Environmental Research, in press, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2020.110420
Lai, Webster, Kumari, and Sarkar (in press) make space-use suggestions related to social density management and appropriate social distancing: “School buildings are generally very inefficiently used, being unused at weekends and evenings. This gives scope for lower-density classes by spreading across time. . . . Future housing must also focus on the creation of a multi-functional design with inherent abilities to couple living with working to enable work-from-home routines that can not only facilitate performance efficiency but also individual’s wellbeing. . . As populations are restricted indoors, into limited per-capita space, the role of neighbourhood built environment becomes ever more important; its restorative potential in maintaining emotional resilience and mental wellbeing as well as enabling adequate levels of physical activity. . . . Cities have taken shape over tens and hundreds of years around a simple diurnal pattern based around working in the day and sleeping at night. As a result, much urban space is underused and can be de-crowded by smoothing usage over daily and weekly cycles.”
Ka Lai, Chris Webster, Sarika Kumari, and Chinmoy Sarkar. “The Nature of Cities and the Covid-19 Pandemic.” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, in press, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2020.08.008
Ogletree, Huang, Alberico, Marquet, Floyd, and Hipp identified the amenities parents are most interested in finding in the parks they visit with their children. A study published in the Journal of Healthy Eating and Active Living, based on data collected in North Carolina and New York City from low-income parents of 5- to 10-year oldswho visited parks, indicates that “While parents from diverse backgrounds most often value parks that offer amenities like playgrounds, sports fields and green spaces, they also want parks to feel safe. . . . Across all parents in the [North Carolina] Triangle, [the researchers] saw that safety and safe facilities were most often cited, followed closely by physical features like playground equipment, sports fields and green areas. . . . Parents who identified as Latinx in New York City highly valued the safety and security of the park, along with proximity and limited entrances. Latinx parents were also more likely to indicate the social environment of a park was important to them.”
“Study Identifies Amenities Parents Want in Public Parks.” 2020. Press release, North Carolina State University, https://news.ncsu.edu/2020/12/study-identifies-amenities-parents-want-in...
Neuroscientists affiliated with Technische Universitat Dresden found that we “hear” what we expect to hear. A press release from TU Dresden reports that “neuroscience research has revealed that the cerebral cortex constantly generates predictions on what will happen next, and that neurons in charge of sensory processing only encode the difference between our predictions and the actual reality.. . . new findings . . . show that not only the cerebral cortex, but the entire auditory pathway, represents sounds according to prior expectations.. . . Dr. Alejandro Tabas, first author of the publication, states on the findings: ‘Our subjective beliefs on the physical world have a decisive role on how we perceive reality. . . . All that we perceive might be deeply contaminated by our subjective beliefs on the physical world.’"
“We Hear What We Expect to Hear.” 2021. Press release, Technische Universitat Dresden, https://tu-dresden.de/tu-dresden/newsportal/news/menschen-hoeren-das-was...
Recently published research confirms the value of designing green spaces into our everyday environments. A paper published in the Journal of Happiness Studies reports that “Previous academic studies have indicated how being outdoors, particularly in green spaces, can improve mental health by promoting more positive body image, and lowering levels of depression and anxiety. . . . Using an experience sampling method (ESM), the researchers measured levels of happiness amongst a group of 286 adults three times a day, at random intervals, over a 21-day period. . . . levels of happiness were higher when participants were outdoors rather than indoors. In addition, more daily screen time and higher levels of loneliness were both associated with lower levels of happiness. The impact of loneliness on happiness was also weaker when participants were outdoors.” Data were collected in April 2020 in Austria.
“Heading Outdoors Keeps Lockdown Blues at Bay.” 2021. Press release, Anglia Ruskin University, https://aru.ac.uk/news/heading-outdoors-keeps-lockdown-blues-at-bay
The number of people visiting parks has increased during the pandemic, with design-related implications. Fisher, Grima, Sommer, Corcoran, Hill-James, and Langton conducted a study, published in PLoS One, which determined that “26% of people visiting parks during early months of the COVID-19 pandemic had rarely – or never – visited nature in the previous year. . . . According to the findings, nearly 70% of park users increased their visits to local nature. . . . . While 27% of people reduced their group size when visiting nature, another 11% of visitors increased their group size. This aligns with the 17% of respondents who reported that natural areas allowed them safe spaces to socialize during COVID-19. Park users’ most common reasons for visiting natural areas and parks were: getting outside, exercise, connecting to nature, finding peace and quiet, birding, dog walking, and time with children. Researchers found that 66% of people used these natural areas to find peace and quiet, and 32% reported these places as spaces for contemplation, activities that have been shown to reduce stress.”
“New Nature Lover? It’s a COVID-19 Side Effect.” 2020. Press release, The University of Vermont, https://www.uvm.edu/rsenr/news/new-nature-lover-its-covid-19-side-effect
Triugakos, Chawla, and McCarthy evaluated stress levels among employees during the pandemic and the effects of hand washing on those stress levels. They determined that “there is little understanding of how COVID-19 health anxiety(CovH anxiety)—that is, feelings of fear and apprehension about having or contracting COVID-19—impacts critical work, home, and health outcomes. . . . Consistent with predictions, CovH anxiety was found to impair critical work (goal progress), home (family engagement) and health (somaticcomplaints) outcomes due to increased emotion suppression and lack of psychological need fulfillment. Further, individuals who frequently engage in handwashing behavior were buffered from the negative impact of CovH anxiety.” This work highlights an important reason to support hand washing via design.
John Triugakos, Nitya Chawla, and Julie McCarthy. 2020. “Working in a Pandemic: Exploring the Impact of COVID-19 Health Anxiety on Work, Family, and Health Outcomes.” Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 105, no. 11, pp. 1234-1245, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/apl0000739