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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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Gjerde and Vale asked people walking along an urban street about their visual preferences.  They report that “The appearance of the built environment is an important matter for most people, as it can affect their physical, financial and psychological wellbeing. . . . People were invited to indicate their preferences while walking along three streets in New Zealand cities. The survey responses were supplemented by two focus group discussions. . . . people prefer streetscapes where differences in height and architectural composition vary within a narrow band of difference along the length of the street. At the scale of the individual building façade, people were found to prefer traditional cladding materials such as brick and those that could be painted or refinished. Compositionally, people preferred buildings with discrete window openings, a finding that was strongly supported by a dislike for horizontally banded façade treatments. The findings invite questions around contemporary architectural design practices and how these can be directed toward creating a better liked built environment.”

Morten Gjerde and Brenda Vale.  “An Examination of People’s Preferences for Buildings and Streetscapes in New Zealand.”  Australian Planner, in press,

Das and Gailey’s work confirms the value of exercising in green environments via data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The research duo report that “Previous cross-sectional literature reports protective effects of outdoor exposure on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. We longitudinally assess whether green exercise corresponded with a decline in adverse mental health symptoms, controlling for state lockdown policies. . . . we specificized participation in an outdoor walk, jog, or hike (green exercise). . . . results indicate a modest decline in PHQ-4 [patient health] scores of approximately 0.10 (less mental health symptoms) as a function of green exercise, controlling for state lockdown status. . . . green exercise, as opposed to indoor exercise, corresponds with a decrease in PHQ-4 scores during lockdown. Contact with nature may improve mood and decrease mental health symptoms, especially during stress-inducing periods such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Green exercise as a recommended behavioral intervention may hold relevance for greater public health.”

Abhery Das and Samantha Gailey.  2022. “Green Exercise, Mental Health Symptoms, and State Lockdown Policies:  A Longitudinal Study.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 82, 101848,

Researchers investigated how the properties of food photos influence expectations of how the food shown will taste.  Liu and teammates determined, via a study published in the Journal of Business Research, that “Photos high in color saturation make food look fresher and tastier to viewers, which increases their willingness to order the menu items. . . . Color saturation refers to the intensity of the color in the image – the vividness and richness of the reds and greens and blues. . . . The photos with high color saturation were edited with professional graphic design software to be 130% more saturated than the low-saturation photos. The up-close photos were 130% larger in radius and appeared nearer to the observer than the more distant photo. . . . color saturation had a stronger effect when the food appeared more distant in the photos. . . . [the effect of color saturation] was stronger for people who were told they would be eating alone and weaker for those who would be eating with family.”

“How Color in Photos Can Make Food Look Tastier.”  2022.  Press release, The Ohio State University,

Howlin, Stapleton, and Rooney studied how music can be used to reduce pain, collecting information from adults experiencing acute pain.  They report that “Music is increasingly being recognised as an adjuvant treatment for pain management. Music can help to decrease the experience of both chronic and experimental pain. . . . in naturalistic settings, the present study examined the degree to which cognitive agency (i.e., perceived choice in music), music features (i.e., complexity), and individual levels of musical sophistication were related to perceived pain. . . . A bespoke piece of music was co-created with a commercial artist to enable the manipulation of music complexity while controlling for familiarity, while facilitating an authentic music listening experience. Overall, findings demonstrated that increased perceived control over music is associated with analgesic benefits, and that perceived choice is more important than music complexity.”  Previous research has shown links between environmental choice/control and enhanced mental and physical wellbeing more generally.

Claire Howlin, Alison Stapleton, and Brendan Rooney.  2022. “Tune Out Pain:  Agency and Active Engagement Predict Decrease in Pain Intensity After Music Listening.”  PLoS ONE, vol. 17, no. 8, e0271329,

Christiana and teammates probed the effectiveness of using signage along pathways to encourage people to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between themselves.  The researchers share that they “examined the effectiveness of a point-of-decision prompt to increase physical distancing (maintaining at least 6 ft of distance) on greenways and rail-trails using systematic observation. . . . Results indicate that the intervention did not have a significant effect on interacting groups maintaining physical distance. However, groups maintaining physical distance increased from baseline (72%) to post-intervention (79%) and likelihood of maintaining physical distance at baseline and post-intervention was higher when: passing in the opposite direction compared to passing in the same direction; using 12-foot-wide trails compared to 10-foot-wide trails; and only one person was in each group. These results provide important implications for public health and parks and recreation professionals to promote physical distancing on multi-use trails.”

Richard Christiana, Shay Daily, Thomas Bias, Vaike Haas, Angela Dyer, Elizabeth Shay, Adam Hege, Robert Broce, Heather Venrick, and Christiaan Abildso.  “Effectiveness of a Point-of-Deciion Prompt to Encourage Physical Distancing on Greenways and Rail-Trails During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”  Environment and Behavior, in press,

Hatano and colleagues’ research will interest you if you design or manage areas where people wait or ever wait yourself (and who doesn’t from time to time?).  The investigators report that “The ability to engage in internal thoughts without external stimulation is a unique characteristic in humans. The current research tested the hypothesis that people . . . underestimate their capability to enjoy this process of “just thinking.” Participants . . . were asked to sit and wait in a quiet room without doing anything. Across six experiments, we consistently found that participants’ predicted enjoyment and engagement for the waiting task were significantly less than what they actually experienced. This underappreciation of just thinking also led participants to proactively avoid the waiting task in favor of an alternative task (i.e., Internet news checking), despite their experiences not being statistically different. These results suggest an inherent difficulty in accurately appreciating how engaging just thinking can be, and could explain why people prefer keeping themselves busy, rather than taking a moment for reflection and imagination in our daily life.”

Aya Hatano, Cansu Ogulmus, Hiroaki Shigemasu, and K. Murayama. “Thinking About Thinking:  People Underestimate How Enjoyable and Engaging Just Waiting Is.”  Journal of Experimental Psychology:  General, in press,

Qi, Lu, and Chen’s research confirms the wayfinding-related findings of previous studies; being able to see the outdoors as we walk inside a building helps us keep track of where we are and find our way to a desired location.  They report that “General hospitals in China always present significant wayfinding problems due to their sizes and complexity. Poor wayfinding often leads to a frustrating and stressful user experience. . . . We conducted an experiment in which 117 college students, aged 18–33 . . . performed two tasks in virtual reality environments of outpatient clinics. . . . Participants’ sense of orientation, navigation ability, distance estimation, and spatial anxiety were captured by a survey. . . . Participants’ stress levels were lower with outdoor window views compared to those without outdoor views. With more environmental features (landmarks and outdoor window views) added to the environments, participants showed significantly better wayfinding performance.”

Fei Qi, Zhipeng Lu, and Yi Chen.  “Investigating the Influences of Healthcare Facility Features on Wayfinding Performance and Associated Stress Using Virtual Reality.”  HERD:  Health Environments Research and Design Journal, in press,

Devlin’s study was conducted in doctor’s office waiting rooms but its findings can reasonably be extended to other sorts of places.  Devlin reports that she studied “preference for five different seating arrangements (e.g., rows, clusters) in a doctor’s office waiting room . . . and how such choices may have changed over the pandemic (2013 vs. 2021). . . . Data collected in 2013 and 2021 used sketches of five different seating arrangements; people saw just one of these. . . . seating preferences favored end, not middle seats, and chair selections with the chair back to a wall. In this study, no evidence exists that the doctor’s office layout is less preferred than four other seating arrangements, but seat choice shows people prefer end seats (not middle seats) across arrangements. The doctor’s office layout may offer a supportive familiarity to people; also, given the percentage of people who visit the doctor unaccompanied, layouts designed to encourage social interaction may not always be appropriate.”  In the “doctor’s office layout” seats are pushed against the walls of the waiting room.

Ann Devlin.  “Seating in Doctors’ Waiting Rooms:  Has COVID-19 Changed Our Choices?”  HERD: Health Environments Research and Design Journal, in press,

Where would people prefer to give birth?  Skogstrom, Vithal, and Wijk report that their “study was part of a . . . research project, including women . . . receiv[ing] care in a new birthing room designed with physical features changeable according to personal wishes. . . .  The overall impression of the room was positive and exceeded women’s expectations. They felt welcomed and strengthened by the room, which shifted the focus to a more positive emotional state. The room differed from traditional hospital birthing rooms, contained familiar features that maintained integrity, and had space for companions. The variety of physical features was appreciated. Of nine listed physical features, the bathtub was ranked most important, followed by the projection of nature scenery, and dimmable lighting, but the room as a whole appeared most important.  When planning and designing hospital-based birthing rooms, it is crucial to offer possibilities to adapt the room and physical features according to personal wishes.”

Lisa Skogstrom, Emma Vithal, and Helle Wijk.  2022. “Women’s Experiences of Physical Features in a Specially Designed Birthing Room:  A Mixed-Methods Study in Sweden.”  HERD:  Health Environments Research and Design Journal, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 193-205,


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