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The mental wellbeing of people who commute daily through natural environments seems to be higher than the mental wellbeing of people who commute through natural environments less often. Researchers have found via an analysis of survey data from nearly 3,600 people living in Barcelona (Spain), Doetinchem (the Netherlands), Kaunas (Lithuania) , and Stoke-on-Trent (United Kingdom) that “people who commute through natural environments report better mental health.”  Natural environments “were defined as all public and private outdoor spaces that contain ‘green’ and/or ‘blue’ natural elements such as street trees, forests, city parks and natural parks/reserves, and also included all types of waterbodies.” Also, “the quality of the natural environments in which commuting took place did not influence the results.”  This study is published in Environment International.   

“People Who Commute Through Natural Environments Daily Report Better Mental Health.”  2018.  Press release; IS Global, Barcelona Institute for Global Health, https://www.isglobal.org/en/new/-/asset_publisher/JZ9fGljXnWpI/content/l...

A research team lead by Harada has confirmed that smelling lavender is relaxing.  The compound in lavender responsible for this effect is linalool.

Hiroki Harada, Hideki Kashiwadani, Yuichi Kanmura, and Tomoyuki Kuwaki.  “Linalool Odor-Induced Anxiolytic Effects in Mice.”  Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, in press, https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00241

Kwon and Kim investigated how soundscapes influenced attention to various design elements in coffee shops.  Data collected via eye-tracking and interviews were analyzed as part of their study, which “explored how visual attention to the interior elements of commercial settings was affected by auditory stimuli. . . .  photo images of coffee shops were used as visual stimuli. . . . As auditory stimuli, two songs in different genres were used:  soft pop . . . and dance-pop. . . . The participants gave their visual attention to the overall interior elements while slow and soft music was playing; their visual attention to signs, objects, and retail elements was noticeable while fast and intense background music was playing.”

Jain Kwon and Juyeon Kim. 2018.  “Individuals’ Visual Attention to Interior Elements in the Audio-Visual Context of Liven Experiences.”  In Shared Behavioral Outcomes, The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, September 20-22, 2018, Salk Institute,pp. 82-83.

Stelick and colleagues’ research indicates that the environment in which food is consumed influences tastes perceived.  As they report, “Eating is a multimodal experience. When we eat, we perceive not just the taste and aroma of foods, but also their visual, auditory, and tactile properties, as well as sensory input from our surroundings. . . . Virtual environments were formed by processing custom‐recorded 360 degree videos and overlaying audio, text, sensory scales, and images to simulate a typical sensory evaluation ballot within the VR headset. . . . participants were asked to taste 3 identical blue cheese samples in 3 virtual contexts–a sensory booth [designed to limit non-taste sensory input], a park bench, and a cow barn. Respondents rated their liking of the sample, as well as its saltiness, and pungency, attributes either reflective of one context (pungency in the barn), or presumably unrelated (saltiness). Panelists duly rated the sample's flavor as being more pungent when consumed in the barn context.”

Alina Stelick, Alexandra Penano, Alden Riak, and Robin Dando.  2018.  “Dynamic Context Sensory Testing- A Proof of Concept Study Bringing Virtual Reality to the Sensory Booth.” Journal of Food Science, vol. 83, no. 8, pp. 2047-2051, https://doi.org/10.1111/1750-3841.14275

Holmes, a leading inclusive designer, particularly of technology products, has written an important guide to her field, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design.  As the sell materials for her book note (at https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/mismatch):  “Sometimes designed objects reject their users: a computer mouse that doesn't work for left-handed people, for example, or a touchscreen payment system that only works for people who read English phrases, have 20/20 vision, and use a credit card. Something as simple as color choices can render a product unusable for millions. These mismatches are the building blocks of exclusion. In Mismatch, Kat Holmes describes how design can lead to exclusion, and how design can also remedy exclusion. Inclusive design methods—designing objects with rather than for excluded users—can create elegant solutions that work well and benefit all.” In the first chapter of her book, Holmes states  “The objects and people around us influence our ability to participate.  Not just when playing on a playground, but in all aspects of society.  Our cities, workplaces, technologies, even our interactions with each other are touch points for accessing the world around us. . . . .In this book we’ll take a deep dive into how inclusion can be a source of innovation and growth, especially for digital technologies.  It can be a catalyst for creativity and an economic imperative.  And we’ll contend with a central challenge:  is it even possible to design for all human diversity?”

Kat Holmes. 2018.  Mismatch:  How Inclusion Shapes Design.  MIT Press:  Cambridge, MA.  

Hirst and Schabenland studied the effects of office design on employees’ psychological comfort.  A press release Anglia Ruskin University issued related to their research reports that the duo found that  Employees subconsciously act and dress differently in modern open-plan office environments. . . . [Hirst and Schabenland]over the course of three years analysed the behaviour of around 1,000 employees at a UK local authority that moved from six separate departmental buildings into a . . . building [that] made extensive use of glass and incorporated large, open-plan offices and collective spaces. . . .[Hirst] said: ‘When changing from a more closed, compartmentalised office space to a new open-plan, transparent and fluid working space, office workers were more conscious of their visibility and often found this unsettling rather than liberating. Women in particularly felt anxious about the idea of being constantly watched, and felt they had to dress in a certain way. . . .  [working] in an open space. . . .was seen by some as a chance to dress more smartly and fulfill a new identity.”

In their journal article, Hirst and Schabenland (2018) state that “the new office encourages an image of the ideal worker which brings together ways of acting and interacting that have been characterized as both masculine and feminine — active movement and spontaneous encounters, but also intensive face-to-face interaction and deep relationship-building.”

“New Offices Make Us More Image-Conscious.”  2018. Press release, Anglia Ruskin University, https://www.anglia.ac.uk/news/new-offices-make-us-more-image-conscious

Alison Hirst and Christina Schabenland.  2018. “Doing Gender in the ‘New Office.’” Gender, Work and Organization, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 159-176, https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12200

Kelsey and colleagues investigated how design can influence donations to charities.  They “compared prosocial behavior in the presence of eyes versus inanimate objects as well as other human features. The study was conducted as a field experiment at a children’s museum. Each week, the donation signs were changed to show eyes, noses, mouths, or chairs. Total donation amount and number of patrons per week were recorded. Participants donated more when they were exposed to eyes than to inanimate objects (chairs). We thus replicated the previously reported watching-eyes effect. Moreover, more money was donated when individuals were exposed to eyes than to more general cues of human presence (nose and mouth). The current findings suggest that eyes play a special role in promoting cooperation in humans, likely by serving as cues of monitoring and thus eliciting reputation management behavior.”

Caroline Kelsey, Amrisha Vaish, and Tobias Grossman.  “Eyes, More Than Other Facial Features, Enhance Real-World Donation Behavior.”  Human Nature, in press, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-018-9327-1

If you’ll be in London between now and March 3, 2019, you can visit the Living with Buildings exhibit at the Wellcome Collection. It focuses on the question “We’re surrounded by buildings all the time, but how do they affect our physical and mental health?” There is more information about the exhibit at the web address below.  

https://wellcomecollection.org/exhibitions/Wk4sPSQAACcANwrX

Research on the fascinating ways humans process sensory information continues.  Velasco and colleagues report that  “People map different sensory stimuli, and words that describe/refer to those stimuli, onto spatial dimensions in a manner that is non-arbitrary. . . . participants [in this Velasco-lead study] . . .  locate[d] the word ‘sweet’ higher in space than the word ‘bitter’. . . . participants also positioned products that are typically expected to be sweet (cupcake and honey) or bitter (beer and coffee) spatially. Overall, the sweet-tasting products were assigned to higher locations than were the bitter-tasting products. . . . participants evaluated the sweet products as looking more appetizing when presented in upper relative to lower shelf locations. In none of the three studies was an association found between tastes and positions along the horizontal axis.”

C. Velasco, C. Adams, O. Petit, and C. Spence.  2019.  “On the Localization of Tastes and Tasty Products in 2D Space.”  Food Quality and Preference, vol. 71, pp. 438-446, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual/2018.08.018.

Chraibi and colleagues investigated employee responses to dynamic workplace lighting that dims over a workstation when the person working there leaves their seat and brightens when someone returns to that workspace.  Installing dynamic lighting can be important because “Sensor-triggered control strategies can limit the energy consumption of lighting.” Via data collected in a mock-up office, the researchers learned that when  “the participants performed an office-based task [and] the luminaire above the actors’ desk was dimmed from approximately 550 lx to 350 lx (average horizontal illuminance), and vice versa. . . . the noticeability of light changes due to dimming, increases when fading times become shorter.  Dimming with a fading time of at least two seconds was experienced as acceptable by more than 70% of the participants.”  During the data gathering periods there was “dimming up when occupancy is detected and diming down when a desk becomes unoccupied.”  Of 6 lights in the test area, the intensity of only one varied, the light right above the workstation of a confederate of the researcher who entered or left the test area as instructed by the researchers. Data were collected from people sitting near that confederate and the lights remained on above the desks of the people answering the investigators’ questions. There was no natural light in the test area.

S. Chraibi, P. Creemers, C. Rosenkotter, E. van Loenen, M. Aries, and A. Rosemann. “Dimming Strategies for Open Office Lighting:  User Experience and Acceptance.”  Lighting Research and Technology, DOI: 10.1177/1477153518772154

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