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Portegijs and colleagues studied how neighborhood features influence the (self-reported) physical activity/mobility of older (79-94 year old) residents of a Finnish community. They asked study participants to indicate “destinations perceived to facilitate and barriers perceived to hinder outdoor mobility in their neighborhood. . . . analyses adjusted for age, sex, and physical performance showed that neighborhood destinations increased the odds for higher physical activity when located beyond 500 m from home . . . but not when located solely within 500 m . . . in comparison with when reporting no destinations. In contrast, neighborhood barriers decreased the odds for higher physical activity when solely located within 500 m . . . but not when any barrier was located beyond 500 m . . . compared with when reporting no barriers. . . . Neighborhood barriers to outdoor mobility located close to home were associated with lower physical activity of older adults, whereas barriers further away were not. Attractive destinations for outdoor mobility located further away from home correlated with higher physical activity.”

Erja Portegijs, Kirsi Keskinen, Johanna Eronen, Milla Saajanaho, Merja Rantakokko, and Taina Rantanen.  2020. “Older Adults’ Physical Activity and the Relevance of Distances to Neighborhood Destinations and Barriers to Outdoor Mobility.”  Frontiers in Public Health,

Do people experience art differently in museums and classrooms?  Ishiguro and colleagues report that their study “participants viewed 14 specific artworks before and after participating in the VTS [visual thinking strategies] program. The time that participants spent viewing the art and their evaluations of each picture were measured. The results showed that the artworks in the VTS program were found to be more interesting, better liked, and more beautiful in the museum context compared to the classroom context. However, in terms of interest, the difference in evaluations between the two conditions was mitigated [reduced] as the VTS classes progressed. . . . These findings reveal how educational effects can vary in different settings such as museums and classrooms.”

Chiaki Ishiguro, Yuki Sato, Ai Takahashi, Yuko Abe, Hirotaka Kakizaki, Hiroyuki Okada, Etsuko Kato, and Haruto Takagishi.  “Comparing Effects of Visual Thinking Strategies in a Classroom and a Museum.” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press,

Recently completed research confirms the power of placebos and ways in which they may be useful in design contexts.  A Guevarra-lead team report that researchers worked with two sets of people: “The nondeceptive placebo group members read about placebo effects and were asked to inhale a saline solution nasal spray. They were told that the nasal spray was a placebo that contained no active ingredients but would help reduce their negative feelings if they believed it would. The comparison control group members also inhaled the same saline solution spray, but were told that the spray improved the clarity of the physiological readings the researchers were recording.  The first experiment found that the nondeceptive placebos reduced participants’ self-reported emotional distress. Importantly, the second study showed that nondeceptive placebos reduced electrical brain activity reflecting how much distress someone feels to emotional events, and the reduction in emotional brain activity occurred within just a couple of seconds.”   Findings are published in Nature Communications.

“Placebos Prove Powerful . . . Even When People Know They’re Taking One.”  2020.  Press release, Michigan State University,

Durkin and colleagues link seeing abstract art and more abstract thinking.  They report that “In three different decision making tasks, we found that abstract art evokes a more abstract mindset than representational art. Our data suggest that abstract and representational art have differential effects on cognition. . . .  abstract art was evocative of greater psychological distance. Our data demonstrate that different levels of artistic abstraction evoke different levels of mental abstraction.”

Celia Durkin, Eileen Hartnett, Daphna Shohamy, and Eric Kandel. 2020. “An Objective Evaluation of the Beholder’s Response to Abstract and Figurative Art Based on Construal Level Theory.”  PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,

Pae and Akar determined that the purpose of a walk influences how we walk and our perceptions of that walk’s implications.  The researchers report that they analyzed data from the “2017 [US] National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) data. The sample includes 125,885 adults between the ages of 18 and 64. . . . trip purposes are defined as: home-based work, home-based shopping, home-based recreation, home-based other and non-home-based trips. . . . walking for different trip purposes has different effects on adults’ self-assessed health scores. For instance, an additional 10-min of walking for home-based work trips increases the odds of being in a higher health outcome category by 6 percent, while this effect is smaller for home-based other trips (3 percent). . . . Walking for home-based work trips has the fastest speeds (2.69 miles/hour), followed by walking for home-based recreational trips (2.55 miles/hour). . . . the benefits of walking on health mainly come from home-based walking trips. Planners and decision makers should consider diverse interventions to encourage people to walk within, to and from their neighborhoods.”

Gilsu Pae and Gulsah Akar. 2020.  “Effects of Walking on Self-Assessed Health Status:  Links Between Walking, Trip Purposes and Health.”  Journal of Transport and Health, vol. 18, 100901,

Research completed by McCunn and colleagues confirms the value of allowing people some control over their physical environment. The investigators report that data they collected from nurses working at several locations and analyzed revealed  “A theme of environmental control over both overhead and task lighting. . . .  controllability was among the ‘best’ lighting attributes. . . . Daylighting was also considered to be among the best attributes. Control over light level via additional dimming capability for patients, as well as additional light sources, was prominent. . . . Unique to the more modern facility, trespassing of light was problematic for nurses considering the experiences of patients—even where modern models exist, more attention can be paid to the ways in which window shades, and light sources outside of rooms, penetrate spaces and affect users.. . . Despite differences in the level of sophistication in lighting among the four facilities, control continues to be a primary concern for nurses.”

Lindsay McCunn, Sarah Safranek, Andrea Wilkerson, and Robert Davis.  “Lighting Control in Patient Rooms:  Understanding Nurses’ Perceptions of Hospital Lighting Using Qualitative Methods.”  HERD:  Health Environments Research and Design Journal, in press,

Garnett and colleagues studied how physical distance can nudge people toward particular food choices in cafeterias; using design to encourage specific behaviors is frequently discussed, for example, in the context of supporting healthier living. The Garnett-lead team reports that they “undertook two experimental studies involving 105,143 meal selections in the cafeterias of a British university. Placing vegetarian options first on the counter consistently increased their sales when choices were widely separated (>1.5 m; vegetarian sales as a percentage of total meal sales increased by 4.6 and 6.2 percentage points) but there was no evidence of an effect when the options were close together (<1.0 m). This suggests that order effects depend on the physical distance between options.” Even more concretely:  vegetarian sales increased a statistically significant amount when vegetarian meals were placed so that diners reached them before non-vegetarian options and the spacing between entrees was extended by one meter (sales increased with an 181 cm gap but not one of 85 cm).

Emma Garnett, Theresa Marteau, Chris Sandbrook, Mark Pilling, and Andrew Balmford.  2020.  “Order of Meals at the Counter and Distance Between Options Affect Student Cafeteria Vegetarian Sales.”  Nature Food, vol. 1, pp. 485-488,

Andersen and colleagues studied how playground design influences how children (grades 4 to 9) play. The research team gathered data at three Danish schoolyards and reports that when activity in renovated schoolyards was compared to that in one that was mainly asphalt  “with few features” that “At two schools, time and physical activity increased in the renewed area, but for one school they decreased. The percentage of time spent in MVPA [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] and LPA [light physical activity] only increased in the renewed area at school 1, while the percentage of time and PA [physical activity] decreased in the intervention area at school 3 after renewal. Courts for ballgames, foursquare markings and hills generated activity spots for both genders. Girls were active at a large screen for dancing activities, a lowered multi-court, a spider-web climbing structure and in an area with big tree stumps whereas the boys were active in-between features and on an obstacle trail. These findings emphasize the importance of providing a schoolyard with a variety of functional features close to each other when building activating schoolyards for both genders.”

Henriette Andersen, Lars Christiansen, Charlotte Pawlowski, and Jasper Schipperijn.  2019.  “What We Build Makes a Difference – Mapping Activating Schoolyard Features After Renewal Using GIS, GPS and Accelerometers.”  Landscape and Urban Planning, vol. 191, 103617,

Jiang, He, Chen, Larsen, and Wang evaluated how driving on a freeway through various sorts of urban environments influences driver experience.  They found via 90-minute simulations of environments through which study participants “drove” at the legal speed limit (70–120 km/hour) that: “The summarized mental status measure is the average value of the seven measures of negative mental status (boredom, anger, frustration, tension, anxiety, avoidance, mental fatigue). . . . the tree-regularcondition evoked significantly lower levels of negative mental status than all other conditions. . . . The barrenand shrub-randomconditions evoked significantly higher levels of negative mental status than the other four conditions, and there is no significant difference between barrenand shrub-random.The turf, shrub-regular, and tree-randomconditions ranked from 3nd to 5th on evoked level of negative mental status, but none of the comparisons between them are significant. . . . Landscapes with greater levels of greenness, such as those with a vertical outline of trees, are far more restorative.” So, as greenness increases (from barren to shrub and, finally, to tree) lower levels of negative mental status are perceived by the drivers.  Also, when greenness levels are roughly equivalent, views with greater visual complexity (random arrangements were more complex than regular ones) were tied to greater levels of negative mental status.  In random test conditions there was more species diversity and spatial variation in plant arrangement than in regular ones but in both cases (for example, tree-regular and tree-random) similar numbers of trees or shrubs were present.  The researchers recommend that barren landscapes beside freeways, those without even turf in place, be avoided.

Bin Jiang, Jibo He, Jielin Chen, Linda Larsen, and Huaqing Wang.  “Perceived Green at Speed:  A Simulated Driving Experiment Raises New Questions for Attention Restoration Theory and Stress Reduction Theory.”  Environment and Behavior, in press,

Divett assessed how being in either an activity-based flexible or open plan workplace influenced employee perceptions of performance.  Data were collected at 3 offices in Australia during a period 3 to 12 months before workplace transitions and at least 3 months after beginning to work in the new spaces. Divett found that “Team members were more satisfied and felt more productive within the activity-based working (ABW) environment compared to the open plan workplace. Leaders were more satisfied and felt team productivity improved, yet individual productivity for leaders remained the same. Occupants felt the key drivers of productivity were team interaction and decision-making.”

Megan Divett. “Team Dynamics Within Activity-Based Working.”  Journal of Facilities Management, in press,


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