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Staats and Groot investigated where solo individuals choose to sit in a crowded café when there are already people sitting in some of the coffee house seats.  The researchers report that  “we manipulated two aspects of intimacy (eye contact and distance to others), and one aspect of privacy (architectural anchoring) in separate scenario’s and registered participants’ seat choice on floor plans of the three hypothetical cafés. We found that more often participants chose a seat that was at a larger distance to other café-goers. Study 2 . . . replicated the design of the first study. . . . This time we found that participants more often chose low-eye contact and anchored seats.”  An important clarification: “privacy was manipulated by altering the amount of possible input regulation by ‘anchoring’ one of two tables to a wall. . . . This shielded the vacant seat from café-goers seated at other tables, but not from those that were seated at the same table.”  

Henk Staats and Piet Groot. 2019.  “Seat Choice in a Crowded Café: Effects of Eye Contact, Distance, and Anchoring.”  Frontiers in Psychology, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00331

Zalejska-Jonsson investigated people’s acoustic experiences in their homes.  She found that “experiencing noise from neighbours occurred relatively seldom; however, this factor has the strongest effect on satisfaction with acoustic quality.” Data were collected in multistory residential buildings.

Agnieszka Zalejska-Jonsson. 2019.  “Perceived Acoustic Quality and Effect on Occupants’ Satisfaction in Green and Conventional Residential Buildings.”  Buildings, vol. 9, no. 1, https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings9010024

Pedestrians’ apparent lack of awareness of their surroundings may not raise safety issues. A team lead by Harms reports that “Pedestrians are commonly engaged in other activities while walking. The current study assesses (1) whether pedestrians are sufficiently aware of their surroundings to successfully negotiate obstacles in a city, and (2) whether various common walking practices affect awareness of obstacles and, or, avoidance behavior. To this end, an obstacle, i.e., a signboard was placed on a pavement in the city centre of Utrecht, the Netherlands. . . . More than half of the participants (53.8%) was unaware of the signboard, still none of them had bumped into it. Mind wandering, being engaged in secondary tasks such as talking with a companion or using a mobile phone, and being familiar with a route, did not affect awareness nor avoidance behavior. In conclusion, despite being very common there was no evidence that walking without awareness necessarily results in risk.”

Ilse Harms, Joke van Dijlen, Karel Brookhuis, and Dick de Waard. 2019.  “Walking Without Awareness.”  Frontiers in Psychology, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01846

Lymeus, Lindberg, and Hartig assessed mindfulness training in different environments.  They found that “The setting matters in meditation. . . .  Many mindfulness-based health interventions emphasize effortful attention training exercises in sparsely furnished indoor settings. However, many beginners with attention regulation problems struggle with the exercises and drop out. In contrast, restoration skills training (ReST) – a five-week course set in a garden environment – builds on mindfulness practices adapted to draw on restorative processes stimulated effortlessly in nature contacts. Expecting that the ReST approach will facilitate the introduction to mindfulness, we compared drop-out and homework completion records from four rounds of ReST vs. conventional mindfulness training. . . . Randomly assigned ReST participants had lower drop-out and more sustained homework completion over the course weeks. . . . The improved acceptability with ReST means that more people can enjoy the long-term benefits of establishing a meditation practice.”  The gardens chosen as study settings were cogntively restrative.

Freddie Lymeus, Per Lindberg, and Terry Hartig.  2019. “A Natural Meditation Setting Improves Compliance with Mindfulness Training.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 64, pp. 98-106, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2019.05.008

Schertz and Berman reviewed published studies exploring the cognitive repercussions of being exposed to nature.  They determined that exposure to a variety of natural stimuli (vs. urban stimuli) consistently improves working memory performance. . . . Overall, there is compelling evidence to support the advice of Thoreau and Murray to spend time in nature. Exposure to natural environments has been shown to improve performance on working memory, cognitive-flexibility, and attentional-control tasks. These results come from studies conducted using a variety of simulated environments (e.g., images, sounds, virtual reality) as well as real-world environmental exposure.. . . One potential mechanism that has emerged for these effects involves the perception of the low-level features of the environment. . . . low-level features include color properties—such as hue, saturation, and brightness (value)—as well as spatial properties—such as the density of straight and nonstraight edges and entropy. . . . Natural environments in general have more nonstraight edges, less color saturation, and less variability of hues.”

Kathryn Schertz and Marc Berman.  “Understanding Nature and Its Cognitive Benefits.”  Current Directions in Psychological Science, in press, https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721419854100

Why do we value handmade objects, even when “perfect” machine made options are available?  Waytz in The Power of Human:  How Our Shared Humanity Can Help Us Create a Better World answers that question. Waytz reports, for example, that “people consciously or subconsciously judge the value of something based on the perceived effort put into it.  The first studies examining this effect, led by psychologist Justin Kruger . . . demonstrated that people valued poems, paintings, and medieval armor more highly when they believed these artifacts required more human effort to produce. . . . Van Osselaer’s studies provide critical insight as to why people prefer handmade to machine-made products: love. Participants reported believing that handmade products contained more love and were made with more love than machine-made products. . . . Job and colleagues showed in their research that the mere trace of a human creator enhanced people’s assessments of an object’s value. . . .  Job’s participants believed that the human touch imbued objects with social qualities such as warmth, friendliness, and sincerity.”

Adam Waytz.  2019.  The Power of Human:  How Our Shared Humanity Can Help Us Create a Better World. W.W. Norton; New York.

Liu, Yin, and Liang, in research relevant to art selection and other design decisions, have learned that we prefer to see things clearly.  They investigated “a potential association between clarity (i.e., operationalized as visual resolution) and affect [emotion] in human cognition. . . . providing support for the ideas of embodied cognition as well as implications for our preference for clarity and aversion to blur. . . . the present findings provide important implications for the evaluative judgments in daily life. The reason why we prefer HD screens and dislike the blurry view on smoggy days is normally regarded as our preference for more visual details. Here in our research, the findings suggest that these phenomena may partly be the consequences of an automatic tendency to view blurrier objects as worse.”

Yiguang Liu, Jun Yin, and Junying Liang. 2019.  “Why Smoggy Days Suppress Our Mood:  Automatic Association Between Clarity and Valence.”  Frontiers in Psychology, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01580

Zuniga-Teran lead a team which determined that parks are used more when the routes potential users would take to them are more walkable.  The investigators found that “Walkable neighborhoods may predict a higher frequency of greenspace use.  Walking as a mode to reach greenspace may predict higher frequency of greenspace visitation.  Driving as a mode to reach greenspace may predict lower frequency of use of greenspace. Proximity to greenspace may not predict the frequency of greenspace visitation for residents. . . . Walkability elements that were found to influence the probability of greenspace visitation include perceptions of traffic safety (pedestrian and biking infrastructure), surveillance (the extent to which people inside buildings can see pedestrians on the street), and community (spaces that allow social interaction). This study provides empirical evidence to support policies that will improve walkability in neighborhoods so that public health goals of increasing physical activity and wellbeing are achieved.”  People who walk or bike to greenspaces are 3.5 times more likely to travel to them daily than individuals who get to them in other ways.

Adriana Zuniga-Teran, Philip Stoker, Randy Gimblett, Barron Orr, Stuart Marsh, David Guertin, and Nader Chalfoun.  “Exploring the Influence of Neighborhood Walkability on the Frequency of Use of Greenspace.”  Landscape and Urban Planning, in press, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2019.103609

Astell-Burt and Feng linked the mental and physical health of city-dwelling people over 45 years old to the extensiveness of the tree canopies and the amount of grass near their homes. They determined that “exposure to 30% or more tree canopy compared with 0% to 9% tree canopy was associated with 31% lower odds of incident psychological distress, whereas exposure to 30% or more grass was associated with 71% higher odds of prevalent psychological distress after adjusting for age, sex, income, economic status, couple status, and educational level. Similar results were found for self-rated fair to poor general health but not physician-diagnosed depression or anxiety. . . . Protection and restoration of urban tree canopy specifically, rather than any urban greening, may be a good option for promotion of community mental health.”  More details on the study: “Percentage of total green space, tree canopy, grass . . . [was] measured within 1.6-km (1-mile) road network distance buffers around residential addresses at baseline.”

Thomas Astell-Burt and Xiaogi Feng.  2019. “Association of Urban Green Space with Mental Health and General Health Among Adults in Australia.” JAMA Network, vol. 2, no. 7, e198209, doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.8209

Mastandrea, Wagoner, and Hogg looked at links between where people live and art preferences. They learned that when “American and Italian participants evaluated two pieces of abstract art and two pieces of representational art that were attributed to fictional American or Italian artists. The key prediction, that participants would evaluate pieces of art, specifically abstract art, more favorably if the artist was a conational than a national outgroup member, was supported, but only among American participants (the Americans had less art-related experience and were more aesthetically uncertain than the Italians). Americans liked American art more than Italian art, American art was liked more by Americans than Italians, and the preference for representational over abstract art disappeared among Americans evaluating American art.”

S. Mastandrea, J. Wagoner, and M. Hogg. “Liking for Abstract and Representational Art:  National Identity as an Art Appreciation Heuristic.”  Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, in press, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/aca0000272

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