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Recently published research confirms the value of designing green spaces into our everyday environments. A paper published in the Journal of Happiness Studies reports that “Previous academic studies have indicated how being outdoors, particularly in green spaces, can improve mental health by promoting more positive body image, and lowering levels of depression and anxiety. . . . Using an experience sampling method (ESM), the researchers measured levels of happiness amongst a group of 286 adults three times a day, at random intervals, over a 21-day period. . . . levels of happiness were higher when participants were outdoors rather than indoors. In addition, more daily screen time and higher levels of loneliness were both associated with lower levels of happiness. The impact of loneliness on happiness was also weaker when participants were outdoors.” Data were collected in April 2020 in Austria.

“Heading Outdoors Keeps Lockdown Blues at Bay.”  2021. Press release, Anglia Ruskin University, https://aru.ac.uk/news/heading-outdoors-keeps-lockdown-blues-at-bay

The number of people visiting parks has increased during the pandemic, with design-related implications. Fisher, Grima, Sommer, Corcoran, Hill-James, and Langton conducted a study, published in PLoS One, which determined that “26% of people visiting parks during early months of the COVID-19 pandemic had rarely – or never – visited nature in the previous year. . . . According to the findings, nearly 70% of park users increased their visits to local nature. . . . . While 27% of people reduced their group size when visiting nature, another 11% of visitors increased their group size. This aligns with the 17% of respondents who reported that natural areas allowed them safe spaces to socialize during COVID-19. Park users’ most common reasons for visiting natural areas and parks were: getting outside, exercise, connecting to nature, finding peace and quiet, birding, dog walking, and time with children. Researchers found that 66% of people used these natural areas to find peace and quiet, and 32% reported these places as spaces for contemplation, activities that have been shown to reduce stress.”

“New Nature Lover?  It’s a COVID-19 Side Effect.”  2020.  Press release, The University of Vermont, https://www.uvm.edu/rsenr/news/new-nature-lover-its-covid-19-side-effect

Triugakos, Chawla, and McCarthy evaluated stress levels among employees during the pandemic and the effects of hand washing on those stress levels.  They determined that “there is little understanding of how COVID-19 health anxiety(CovH anxiety)—that is, feelings of fear and apprehension about having or contracting COVID-19—impacts critical work, home, and health outcomes. . . . Consistent with predictions, CovH anxiety was found to impair critical work (goal progress), home (family engagement) and health (somaticcomplaints) outcomes due to increased emotion suppression and lack of psychological need fulfillment. Further, individuals who frequently engage in handwashing behavior were buffered from the negative impact of CovH anxiety.”  This work highlights an important reason to support hand washing via design.

John Triugakos, Nitya Chawla, and Julie McCarthy. 2020.  “Working in a Pandemic:  Exploring the Impact of COVID-19 Health Anxiety on Work, Family, and Health Outcomes.”  Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 105, no. 11, pp. 1234-1245, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/apl0000739

Saunders and colleagues report that wearing facemasks impedes communication; design may, via whiteboards, new signage, etc., partially compensate for this impairment.  As the Sanders team reports, “An online survey consisting of closed-set and open-ended questions [was] distributed within the UK to gain insights into experiences of interactions involving face coverings, and of the impact of face coverings on communication. . . . With few exceptions, participants reported that face coverings negatively impacted hearing, understanding, engagement, and feelings of connection with the speaker. Impacts were greatest when communicating in medical situations. People with hearing loss were significantly more impacted than those without hearing loss. Face coverings impacted communication content, interpersonal connectedness, and willingness to engage in conversation; they increased anxiety and stress, and made communication fatiguing, frustrating and embarrassing – both as a speaker wearing a face covering, and when listening to someone else who is wearing one.”

G. Saunders, I. Jackson, and A. Visram. “Impacts of Face Coverings on Communication:  An Indirect Impact of Covid-19.”  International Journal of Audiology, in press, https://doi.org/10.1080/14992027.2020.1851401

Research done by Welsch and teammates, indicates that people are stressed by the interpersonal distances required to combat the spread of the pandemic; calming design options (for example), can partially combat this tension.  As the Welsch team reports: “Mandatory rules for social distancing to curb the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic require individuals to maintain a critical interpersonal distance above 1.5 m. However, this contradicts our natural preference, which is closer to 1 m for non-intimate encounters, for example, when asking a stranger for directions. . . . research on preferred interpersonal distances suggests that social distancing could induce discomfort, heighten arousal.  . . . . We suggest that enforcing a physical distance of 1.5–2 m presents a serious challenge to behavioral norms.

Robin Welsch, Heiko Hecht, Lewis Chuang, and Christoph von Castell.  2020. “Interpersonal Distance in the SARS-CoV-2 Crisis.”  Human Factors, vol. 62, no. 7, pp. 1095-1101, https://doi.org/10.1177/0018720820956858

Hofer, Chen, and Schaller make it clear that humans “communicate” extensively via scents.  Peoples’ need to pick up the odors of others supports subtle  scentscaping. The Hofer-lead team shares that “People readily perceive and react to the body odors of other people, which creates a wide range of implications for affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses. . . . . Like physical appearance, body odor reflects personal characteristics and temporary circumstances (e.g., people smell differently depending on their sex, age, health, and even transient emotional states; de Groot, Semin, and Smeets, 2017). . . . Humans have a sophisticated olfactory system that discriminates between a wide range of scents—including the odors of other people. The perceptual processing of body odors occurs through neural mechanisms responsible for the processing of a wide range of social information obtained through various sensory modalities, and this processing typically occurs without conscious awareness. . . . The implication is that just as the human brain evolved to efficiently extract information from other individuals’ appearances, it also evolved to efficiently extract information from their smells.”

Marlise Hofer, Frances Chen, and Mark Schaller. 2020.  “What Your Nose Knows:  Affective, Cognitive, and Behavioral Responses to the Scent of Another Person.”  Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 29, no. 6, pp. 617-623, https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721420964175

Mehahed and Ghoneim discuss lived experiences in homes during the pandemic (which boosted, for example, the desirability of sound-insulated home offices with large windows), the health-related challenges of high-density living, and the need for future, multi-story buildings to support “touchless experience from the front door to the apartment door itself. . . . The building might have wider corridors and doorways, and many more staircases. . . . Depending on how productive remote work proves to be in this pandemic, it is hastening the shift from structured office environments to more flexible, virtual, and home-based work arrangements, which could mean a reversal of the open-office trend. . . . The pandemic highlights the importance of distributing smaller units such as health facilities, schools, and services across more of the urban tissue and strengthen local centers. . . . cities should offer more safe paths and small roads for walking and micro-mobility than depending only on mass public transportation. . . . improving health through strategies such as greater natural light, improved ventilation, fewer toxic substances, and incorporating plants and other natural materials is necessary.”

Naglaa Mehahed and Ehab Ghoneim.  2020.  “Antivirus-Built Environment:  Lessons Learned from Covid-19 Pandemic.”  Sustainable Cities and Society, vol. 61, 102350, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2020.102350

Kiilavuori and teammates broadened previous research on making eye contact from situations involving humans only to those including both humans and robots.  They report that “Eye contact with the robot evoked similar responses as eye contact with the human. . . . Previous research has shown that eye contact, in human-human interaction, elicits increased affective [emotional] and attention related psychophysiological responses. In the present study, we investigated whether eye contact with a humanoid robot would elicit these responses. Participants were facing a humanoid robot (NAO) or a human partner, both physically present and looking at or away from the participant. The results showed that both in human-robot and human-human condition, eye contact versus averted gaze elicited greater skin conductance responses indexing autonomic arousal, greater facial zygomatic muscle responses (and smaller corrugator responses) associated with positive affect [mood], and greater heart deceleration responses indexing attention allocation. . . . eye contact elicits automatic affective [emotional] and attentional reactions both when shared with a humanoid robot and with another human.”  So making eye contact with a robot has the same effects on people as making eye contact with another human.

Helena Kiilavuori, Veikko Sariol, Mikko Peltola, and Jari Hietanen.  “Making Eye Contact with a Robot:  Psychophysiological Responses to Eye Contact with a Human and with a Humanoid Robot.” Biological Psychology, in press, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2020.107989

Researchers have linked how people experience happiness to geography.   This finding is useful to designers doing design-related research or anyone trying to understand responses to design generally.  Gardiner, Funder, Lee, and Baranski found via data collected from 63 countries and people speaking 42 languages that “The meaning of happiness varies depending where in the world a person lives. . . . Happiness studies historically have focused on the Western ideal of happiness, which is relatively self-centered and big on thrills. . . . But Western-centered happiness concepts aren’t universal, the authors hold. While happiness is tied to independence in the West, Eastern happiness is related to interdependence.”  The Gardiner-lead study was published in PLoS One.  

J. D. Warren. 2020.  “How You Measure Happiness Depends Where You Live.”  Press release, University of California, Riverside, https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2020/12/09/how-you-measure-happiness-depen...

Research confirms links between what’s seen and tastes experienced.  Ueda, Spence, and Okajima, using augmented reality visors, collected view-taste data and report that “What we taste is affected by what we see, and that includes the colour, opacity, and shape of the food we consume. . . . We developed a novel AR [augmented reality] system capable of modifying the luminance distribution of foods [the light coming off/bouncing off food] in real-time using dynamic image processing for simulating actual eating situations. Importantly, this form of dynamic image manipulation does not change the colour on the food (which has been studied extensively previously). . . .  Participants looked at a piece of Baumkuchen [a German cake] . . . or a spoonful of tomato ketchup . . . having different luminance distributions and evaluated the taste on sampling the food. Manipulating the SD [standard deviation/variation] of the luminance distribution affected not only the expected taste/flavour of the food (e.g. expected moistness, wateriness and deliciousness), but also the actual taste properties on sampling the food.” When SD of luminance is smaller, a slice of cake, etc., has a smoother appearance and when the SD is larger the same item gives the impression of being rougher.

Junya Ueda, Charles Spence, and Katsunori Okajima.  2020. “Effects of Varying the Standard Deviation of the Luminance on the Appearance of Food, Flavour Expectations, and Taste/Flavour Perception.”  Scientific Reports, vol. 10, 16175, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-73189-8

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