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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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New research confirms the value of listening to natural soundscapes.  In a recent study “EEG and Heart Rate data were recorded from 10 participants within an [real-world] office in London.  Each participant listened to a Moodsonic Soundscape (lapping lake waves) . . . and typical office sounds while they performed a series of tasks; Stroop Test (cognition), Alternative Uses Test (creativity).  . . . Comparative measures were taken from the typical office sounds and Moodsonic soundscape conditions to compare states of relaxation, engagement, creativity and speed of correct completion. The Moodsonic soundscape increased the relaxation response in individuals compared to typical office sounds.  . . . Participants were able to focus better, with greater attention, as reflected by the increased speed of correct completion of the cognitive tasks when listening to the Moodsonic soundscape. . . . Participants scored higher in creativity, as measured by the number of answers provided in the Divergent Thinking Task [when listening to the lapping waves].”

Moodsonic.  2022. “Nature-Based Immersion in the Workplace.”

Research by Mueller and colleagues confirms the challenges of managing noise in open-plan offices.  They share that “Office workers lately use active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones to improve the acoustic situation by blocking unwanted sound. . . . Two studies were conducted to examine if ANC headphones improve cognitive performance and the subjective well-being of employees in an open-plan office. . . . The participants were tested in silence, speech without headphones, speech with ANC headphones switched off and speech with ANC headphones switched on.  No statistically significant differences were found between the conditions with ANC headphones switched on and off as well as without headphones for cognitive performance.  However, ANC headphones statistically significantly improved subjective assessments such as perceived privacy and the assessment of the acoustic environment.”

Benjamin Mueller, Andreas Liebl, Noemi Herget, Dorina Kohler, and Philip Leistner.  “Using Active Noise-Cancelling (ANC) Headphones in Open-Plan Offices:  No Influence on Cognitive Performance But Improvement of Perceived Privacy and Acoustic Environment.”  Frontiers in Built Environment, in press,

New research confirms the value of circadian and natural lighting.  Teruel and colleagues determined that “Disruption of the circadian clocks that keep the body and its cells entrained to the 24-hour day-night cycle plays a critical role in weight gain. . .  factors that throw the body’s ‘clocks’ out of rhythm may contribute to weight gain.”

“Circadian Clocks Play a Key Role in Fat Cell Growth.”  2022.  Press release, Weill Cornell Medicine,

Jiang and Sidikides identify another positive ramification of feeling awed; design can induce awe in a variety of ways, including via material use and exceptional workmanship.  The research duo report that “the emotion of awe . . . awakens self-transcendence (i.e., reaching beyond one’s self-boundary), which in turn invigorates pursuit of the authentic self (i.e., alignment with one’s true self). . . . awe-induced authentic-self pursuit was linked with higher general prosociality [acts that benefit others], but lower inauthentic prosociality.”

T. Jiang and C. Sidikides.  2022. “Awe Motivates Authentic-Self Pursuit Via Self-Transcendence:  Implications for Prosociality.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 123, no. 3, pp. 576-596,

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,


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