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A hot topic in the psych world is whether plants have some sort of consciousness;  whether they do or not may not have design related consequences, but who knows for sure?  In a recent article, Castiello, for example, states “Up until the middle of the 19th century, some data about plant behavior could be found in books dealing with comparative psychology. The tendency gradually faded away, and the topic was almost exclusively treated in literature dealing with plant physiology. In recent years, however, there has been a revamping of psychological terminology and theorizing to describe, explain, and formulate hypotheses on the evidence that many of the sophisticated behaviors plants exhibit are an expression of cognitive competences that are generally attributed to human and nonhuman animals. . . . I shall discuss a selection of experimental studies supporting the idea that plants could be defined as cognitive agents. Experiments showing that the behavior of plants is controlled by a representation of its goal, episodic-like memory, and decision-making will be described.”

Umberto Castiello. “(Re) claiming Plants in Comparative Psychology.”  Journal of Comparative Psychology, in press,

Researchers have found that the mental maps we use to keep track of social relationships are similar to those we develop in our minds to help us find our way from one place to another. A press release from the University of California, Davis, describing a study conducted by Boorman, Park, Miller, Ranganath, and Nili and published in Neuron, states “Even in these social-distanced days, we keep in our heads a map of our relationships with other people: family, friends, co-workers and how they relate to each other. New research . . .  shows that we put together this social map in much the same way that we assemble a map of physical places and things. . . . The study points to a general principle behind how we make decisions based on past experience. Whether we are remembering a route in the physical world, or learning about a set of friends and acquaintances, we start with a template, such as a 2D topology, and a few landmarks, and fit new data around them.” This finding may support the design of effective wayfinding systems, for example.

“Brain Builds and Uses Maps of Social Networks, Physical Space, in the Same Way.”  2020.  Press release, University of California, Davis,

Research lead by Paksarian and Merikangas, and published in JAMA Psychiatry, confirms that nighttime light can have undesirable consequences.  Investigators determined that “adolescents [13-18 years olds] who live in areas that have high levels of artificial light at night tend to get less sleep and are more likely to have a mood disorder relative to teens who live in areas with low levels of night-time light. . . . Daily rhythms, including the circadian rhythms that drive our sleep-wake cycles, are thought to be important factors that contribute to physical and mental health. The presence of artificial light at night can disrupt these rhythms, altering the light-dark cycle that influences hormonal, cellular, and other biological processes. Researchers have investigated associations among indoor artificial light, daily rhythms, and mental health, but the impact of outdoor artificial light has received relatively little attention, especially in teens.”

“Outdoor Light Linked with Teens’ Sleep and Mental Health.”  2020.  Press release, National Institute of Mental Health,

Hidalgo and colleagues studied how bonds to urban places are related to how well cared for those spaces are.  The team report that “Research in environmental psychology has found a positive relationship between place bonds and behaviors related to care and maintenance of place. Although this relationship has been analyzed in natural environments. . . . The participants [in this study] were . . . from eight different neighborhoods with different sociodemographic characteristics in one Spanish city. The results indicate that the relationship between attachment and behavior is significant only in residents with higher socioeconomic levels. . . . Other variables which are significant in explaining neighborhood care are social norms, residential satisfaction, and support for protection policies.”

M. Hidalgo, Pilar Moreno-Jimenez, Gabriel Muinos, and Bernardo Hernandez. “Neighborhood Care and Neighborhood Bonds:  An Unequal Relationship.”  Environment and Behavior, in press,

Vert lead a team whose work confirms the psychological value of being near water. The investigators determined that “A sample of 59 healthy adult office workers was randomly assigned to a different environment (i.e. blue space, urban space, and control site) on 4 days each week, for 3 weeks. For 20 min per day, they either walked along a blue or an urban space or rested at a control site. . . . We found significantly improved well-being and mood responses immediately after walking in the blue space compared with walking in the urban space or when resting in the control site. Cardiovascular responses [blood pressure, heart rate variability] showed increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system, both during and after walking along the blue and urban spaces. However, cardiovascular responses measured after the walks, showed no statistically significant differences between the blue and the urban space environments.”

Cristina Vert, Mireia Gascon, Otavio Ranzani, Sandra Marquez, Margarita Triguero-Mas, Floria Carrasco-Turigas, Lourdes Arjona, Sarah Koch, Maria Llopis, David Donaire Gonzalez, Lewis Elliott, and Mark Nieuwenhuijsen.   “Physical and Mental Health Effects of Repeated Short Walks in a Blue Space Environment:  A Randomised Crossover Study.”  Environmental Research, in press,

Eugenia South published an article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicinedetailing the important physical, mental, and social health benefits of spending time in nature.  A press release issued by the University of Pennsylvania states that “’We don’t learn about environmental contributors to health in medical school, and it is not part of traditional biomedical care,’ South said. ‘And yet, changing the neighborhood, including increasing nature access, has the potential to have a huge health impact on a lot of people. It is worth pursuing.’”  The release goes on to report that “studies . . . show that time in -- and even just the presence of -- nature can improve a community’s health, such as through a reduction in diabetes rates and stress-related conditions like heart disease. Moreover, other studies have shown that a lackof access to nature is tied to poorer outcomes, such as research that tied tree loss to increased cardiovascular and respiratory deaths. . . . vacant lot greening, which has been demonstrated by South and colleagues to reduce violent crime, increase social cohesion, and reduce feelings of depression for nearby community members.”

“Nature Access Requires Attention When Addressing Community Health News.”  2020.  Press release, University of Pennsylvania Medicine,

Jain and colleagues documented the power of round numbers.  They report that they found using numbers that weren’t round (compared to round numbers) “negatively affects consumers’ overall evaluations of the target. . . .   In many of our studies, the non-round numbers used made the target items (e.g., performance on an exam) objectively superior (e.g., 81.64% correct answers in an exam reflects a better performance than 80% correct answers and 18.36% incorrect answers in an exam reflects a better performance than 20% incorrect answers). Despite this, the participants evaluated an objectively more superior entity to be perceptually less good (e.g., A student getting 81.64% correct answers in an exam to have a poorer performance than a student getting 80% correct answers and student getting 18.36% incorrect answers in an exam to have a poorer performance than a student getting 20% incorrect answers). The results were interesting even when the non-round numbers were in the other direction; that is the non-round number was numerically smaller than the round number in the positive frame.”  This finding has repercussions for discussions of design implications, for example.

Gaurav Jain, Gary Gaeth, Dhananjay Nayakankuppam, and Irwin Levin. 2020. “Revisiting Attribute Framing: The Impact of Number Roundedness on Framing.”  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, vol. 161, pp. 109-119,

Researchers evaluated how perceptions of park safety influence user experiences. Orstad, Jay, Szuhany, Thorpe, and Tamura (findings published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health) found that “New Yorkers are more likely to exercise in a park if they believe they live very close to it [a less than 5-minute walk away compared to a 30-minute walk]. In turn, they feel less anxious and less depressed the more often they exercise there—but only if they are not concerned about being safe. . . . Many past studies have linked the availability of urban green spaces to lower stress levels, weight, and risk of heart disease. . . . Other work has shown that living closer to a park leads to fewer days of anxiety and depression. . . . the closeness of a local park made no difference in park use for those who worried about crime in the area. . . . improving cleanliness and lighting along paths, offering more park-based programs, and fostering a sense of community could help make parks feel safer.”

“Mental Health Benefits of Parks Dimmed by Safety Concerns.”  2020.  Press release, NYU Langone Health,

Novotny and colleagues probed how children’s experiences of nature are evolving over time.  They “compared the experience with nature of today’s children with data from the beginning of the 20th century to determine whether we can confirm a loss of experience and contribute to the description of changes in children’s relationship with nature. . . . Results from contemporary participants . . . showed no difference in level of experience according to the age of the respondents. Comparing historical data . . . we found a significant increase in contemporary children’s summary experiences. Although children of the 21st century have less experience with traditional extensive farming activities and biotechnologies, they have much more experience with nature, apparently connected with recreational and field-trip activities. We cannot confirm a decrease in experience among generations, on the contrary, we found a summary increase in experience.”

Petr Novotny, Eliska Zimova, Aneta Mazouchova, and Agrej Sorgo.  “Are Children Actually Losing Contact with Nature, Or Is It That Their Experiences Differ from Those of 120 Years Ago?”  Environment and Behavior, in press,

Szubielska and Niestorowicz evaluated how responses to tactile art, art developed for people who are visually impaired, are influenced by being able to see that art.  They report that “By providing the context of a contemporary art exhibition designed to be touched, we studied haptic pleasure towards artworks. In line with our hypothesis, seeing affected the evaluation of haptic pleasure which was higher in the blindfolded-tactile than visuo-tactile condition. Thus, seeing seems to impede the tactile processing of artworks. . . . it seems that sight may suppress the haptic pleasure coming from touching art. . . . Hence, exposing artworks illuminated with muffled light or unlighted may increase the likelihood of experiencing haptic aesthetic pleasure when touching art.”

Magdalena Szubielska and Ewa Niestorowicz.  2020. “Seeing Suppresses Haptic Please While Perceiving Contemporary Art.”  i-Perception, vol. 11, no. 3,


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