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Recent research verifies that being depressed influences how people see the world, literally.   Salmela, Socada, Söderholm, Heikkilä, Lahti, Ekelund, and Isometsä “confirmed that the processing of visual information is altered in depressed people, a phenomenon most likely linked with the processing of information in the cerebral cortex. The study was published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.”  These findings indicate how important it is to test particular design options with user groups, particularly at counseling centers or other locations where more users than usual are likely to be depressed.

“Depression Affects Visual Perception.”  2021. Press release, University of Helsinki,

Kiss and Linnell investigated how listening to the music that they prefer to hear as they work on a task that requires attention influences a person’s cognitive performance. The researchers share that while people “completed a variation of the Psychomotor Vigilance Task—that has long been used to measure sustained attention—in silence and with their self-selected or preferred music in the background. We collected subjective reports of attentional state (specifically mind-wandering, task-focus and external distraction states) as well as reaction time (RT) measures of performance. . . . In summary, the current study demonstrated that preferred background music enhanced task-focus on a low-demanding [simpler] sustained-attention task by decreasing mind-wandering. . . . Overall, these results provide evidence for a positive effect of background music on task-focused attention during an easy, low-demanding task.”

Luca Kiss and Karina Linnell.  2020.”The Effect of Preferred Background Music on Task-Focus in Sustained Attention.” Psychological Research,

Yang and colleagues studied how the noises that people hear in highway tunnels influences their driving performance;  their findings are likely relevant in other contexts.  The investigators report on a driving simulation-based assessment that they conducted:  “Five different sound scenarios were tested: original highway tunnel sound and a mix of it with four other sounds (slow music [72 beats per minute], fast music [96 beats per minute], voice prompt [woman’s voice], and siren, respectively). The subjects' physiological state and driving behavior data were collected through heart rate variability (HRV) and electroencephalography (EEG). . . . slow music was the best kind of sound related to driving comfort, while the siren sound produced the strongest driver reaction in terms of mental alertness and stress level. The voice-prompt sound most likely caused driver fatigue and overload, but it was the most effective sound affecting safety. The subjective opinion of the drivers indicated that the best sound scenario for the overall experience was slow music (63%), followed by fast music (21%), original highway tunnel sound environment (13%), and voice-prompt sound (3%).” All sounds were experienced at 70 dB.

Yanqun Yang, Yang Feng, Said Easa, Xiujing Yang, Jiang Liu, and Wei Lin.  2021.  “Sound Effects on Physiological State and Behavior of Drivers in a Highway Tunnel.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12,

Hian and colleagues used virtual reality to study the psychological implications of vertical (e.g., on the sides of buildings) greenery.  They report that they “examined the buffering effects of vertical greenery, an increasingly popular form of urban nature in high-density cities, by using VR to simulate the experience of walking through a noisy downtown area where buildings’ exteriors were covered with vertical greenery. Our results suggest that vertical greenery on city buildings can buffer against the negative psychophysiological consequences of stress. . . . Our findings have important practical implications for city planning and design, especially for high-density urban areas. It suggests that vertical greenery systems, and possibly even artificial plants, may provide buffering effects to minimize the detrimental consequences of stress. While our study focused on outdoor environments, it is possible that vertical greenery can be applied to indoor environments such as metro stations or shopping malls where spaces are limited.”

Sarah Hian, May Chan, Lin Qiu, Gianluca Esposito, and Ky Mai. 2021.  “Vertical Greenery Buffers Against Stress:  Evidence from Psychophysiological Responses in Virtual Reality.”  Landscape and Urban Planning, vol. 213, 104127,

Belanche and colleagues evaluated responses to robots providing services; their conclusions are can be applied to design robot waiters or robot concierges in workplaces, for example.  The investigators report that their  “study analyzes to what extent robots' perceived physical human-likeness, perceived competence, and perceived warmth affect customers' service value expectations and, subsequently, their loyalty intentions. . . . human-likeness positively affects four dimensions of service value expectations [functional, social, monetary, and emotional value]. Perceived competence of the robot influences mainly utilitarian expectations (i.e., functional and monetary value), while perceived warmth influences relational expectations (i.e., emotional value). . . When serving a customer base that has a high need for social interaction, the ideal robot looks human-like but warmth is less valued. . . . on a service level some contexts are more likely to attract customers with a need for social interaction (e.g., services that require advice, such as in travel agencies, financial services) than others (e.g., relatively standardized services, such as fast-food restaurants).”

Daniel Belanche, Luis Casalo, Jeroen Schepers, and Carlos Flavian.  2021.  “Examining the Effects of Robots’ Physical Appearance, Warmth, and Competence in Frontline Services:  The Humanness-Value-Loyalty Model.”  Psychology and Marketing,

Noble and Devlin studied patient experiences in psychotherapy waiting rooms.  They found via an online survey that “waiting rooms that were welcoming and comfortable as well as large and spacious rated higher for the quality of care and comfort in the environment anticipated by the participant; those that were cramped and crowded rated lower.”

Lilly Noble and Ann Devlin. 2021. “Perceptions of Psychotherapy Waiting Rooms:  Design Recommendations.”  HERD:  Health Environments Research and Design Journal, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 140-154,

Wichrowski and research partners investigated how nature imagery influences rehabilitation patient experiences.  They share that “In settings where patients have high degrees of medical acuity and infection control is a major concern, exposure to the benefits of real nature may be precluded. . . . In these settings, the presence of nature imagery may provide benefits which positively impact patient experience. . . . physical rehabilitation patients on a medically complex/cardiopulmonary rehabilitation unit filled out questionnaires assessing their perceptions of their room and various indexes of patient satisfaction. . . . the presence of biophilic nature imagery in the hospital rooms had a significant effect on patients’ room ratings and positively influenced indexes of patient satisfaction.”

Matthew Wichrowski, John Corcoran, Fancois Haas, Greg Sweeney, and Arlene Mcgee.  2021. “Effects of Biophilic Nature Imagery on Indexes of Satisfaction in Medically Complex Physical Rehabilitation Patients:  An Exploratory Study.”   HERD:  Health Environments Research and Design Journal, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 288-304,

Gola and teammates studied how 20-30 minutes of contact with nature influences wellbeing.  They learned that “The Scientific Community . . . has already demonstrated the importance of greenery and nature on the psychophysical well-being of people and, in a moment of emergency, contact with the nature can be therapeutic and quite influential on the mental health of staff subject to stress.During the lockdown, an Italian multidisciplinary working group promoted an experience-based survey . . .for measuring the psychophysical well-being of hospital staff.. . .   a short break in green spaces strongly influenced the mental and psychophysical well-being of hospital staff, emphasizing the importance of nearby green spaces in architectures for health. Even a brief break in nature can regenerate users, especially in times of a stressful health emergency.”

Marco Gola, Monica Botta, Anna D’Aniello, and Stefano Capolongo.  2021. “Influence of Nature at the Time of the Pandemic:  An Experience-Based Survey at the Time of SARS-CoV-2 to Demonstrate How Even a Short Break in Nature Can Reduce Stress for Healthcare Staff.” HERD: Health Environments Research and Design Journal, vol.14, no. 2, pp. 49-65,

Sander and colleagues studied the effects of open plan offices on worker experiences, coupling self-reports and physiological measures:  “Employing a simulated office setting, we compared the effects of a typical OPO [open-plan office] auditory environment to a quieter private office auditory environment on a range of objective and subjective measures of well-being and performance. . . . OPO noise . . . did reduce psychological well-being as evidenced by self-reports of mood, facial expressions of emotion, and physiological indicators of stress in the form of heartrate and skin conductivity. Our research highlights the importance of using a multimodal approach to assess the impact of workplace stressors such as noise.”  

Elizabeth Sander, Cecelia Marques, James Birt, Matthew Stead and Oliver Baumann.  “Open-Plan Office Noise is Stressful:  Multimodal Stress Detection in a Simulated Work Environment.”  Journal of Management and Organization, in press,

Lim and colleagues evaluated how the design of healthcare facilities influences perceptions of teamwork. They “measured teamwork perceptions of staff members and patients at four primary care clinics providing team-based care. Visual access to staff workstations from both staff and patient perspectives was analyzed using VisualPower tool (version 21). . . .the visual relationships among staff members and those between staff members and patients have significant associations with overall perceptions of teamwork. While clinics providing more visual connections between staff workstations reported higher teamwork perception of staff members, patient perceptions of staff teamwork were inversely [in reverse] related to the number of visual connections between patients and staff workstations.”

Lisa Lim, Ruth Kanfer, Robert Stroebel, and Craig Zimring.  2021. “The Representational Function of Clinic Design:  Staff and Patient Perceptions of Teamwork.”  HERD: Health Environments Research and Design Journal, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 254-270,


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