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In cooperation with a research team at the Technical University of Munich, Stora Enso has released a white paper detailing health and wellbeing benefits of living and working in spaces with wood design elements. It is available free of charge at the web address noted below. Research indicates, for example, that “wood has beneficial effects. . . . It helps reduce stress, blood pressure and heart rate as well as allowing for more creativity and productivity in the workplace. Wood is also an important part of what’s called biophilic design; our desire to be connected with the natural environment.”
Stora Enso. 2020. “10 Reasons Why Wooden Buildings Are Good for You and the Scientific Research to Back It Up,” https://info.storaenso.com/wood-house-effect
Hodzic and colleagues studied the implications of moving into an activity-based workplace (which the researchers refer to as “activity-based flexible offices”). The researchers determined that “moving to the A-FO had negative effects on distraction, work engagement, job satisfaction, and fatigue. The negative effects of distraction were more pronounced in situations of increased time pressure and unpredictability. . . . . the results highlight the importance of having quiet zones for concentrated work to avoid distractions.” Important information on the older and newer workplaces: “employees moved from the old office to a new flexible ‘activity-based’ office with desk sharing. In the new ‘activity-based’ office the employees had meeting rooms and telephone booths but no special zones for concentrated work were provided. The old office was a mix between the small open office and small to medium conventional offices where employees shared the office with 2–3 people. In the old office, some employees (mostly leaders) had their own room, and some of them kept their own offices even after this transition. Therefore, we focused solely on employees without leadership positions.”
Sabina Hodzic, Bettina Kubicek, Lars Uhlig and Christian Korunka. 2021. “Activity-Based Flexible Offices: Effects on Work-Related Outcomes in a Longitudinal Study.” Ergonomics, vol. 64, no. 4, pp. 455-473, https://doi.org/10.1080/00140139.2020.1850882
Mahmoudzadeh and teammates add to the literature linking worker lighting control and workplace experiences. The group found that when “participants took part in a 3-phased experiment with immersive virtual environments (IVEs). . . . The results of the research revealed that an energy efficient interactive lighting system that gave the participants a perception of control satisfied the participants in terms of lighting the same as a conventional lighting system that gave them full control. . . . findings suggested that the participants were significantly less satisfied with fully automated lighting system in contrast to conventional lighting system or interactive lighting system. . . . The significance of this study lies in demonstrating that satisfaction can be achieved by giving the occupants a perception of control over semi-automated energy-efficient building systems.”
Parisa Mahmoudzadeh, Yasemin Afacan, and Mohamad Adi. “Analyzing Occupants’ Control Over Lighting Systems in Office Settings Using Immersive Virtual Environments.” Building and Environment, in press, 107823, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2021.107823
Researchers have found that initial sensory experiences color responses to future ones. Jain, Nayakankuppam, and Gaeth, in a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making,report that “Once a price is mentioned, that number serves as the basis for — or ‘anchors’ — all future discussions and decisions. But new research shows. . . anchoring even occurs in perceptual domains, like sight, sound, and touch. . . . [the researchers] conducted several studies involving different senses. For example, to test decision-making relating to haptics — or touch — [they] asked subjects to close their eyes and touch sandpaper of a certain grit. When the subjects opened their eyes, he offered them 16 sandpaper choices and asked them to find the grit that matched the first one. Jain anchored the range of options by making participants start with either a relatively finer or coarser grit than the initial one. Those subjects that were anchored with the finer grit chose sandpaper that was finer than the one they originally touched — and the converse was true for those anchored with the coarser grit.” This finding may be useful, for example, to people doing design-related research.
“Not Just For Numbers: Anchoring Biases Decisions Involving Sight, Sound, and Touch.” 2021. Press release, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, https://news.rpi.edu/content/2021/03/17/not-just-numbers-anchoring-biase...
Researchers have found that having COVID-19 seems to influence people’s responses to machines; these findings, published in iScience, have practical implications for both design and management, for instance. Gratch lead a team that determined that “people affected by COVID-19 [as determined by measurements of stress] are showing more goodwill — to humans and to human-like autonomous machines. ‘The new discovery here is that when people are distracted by something distressing, they treat machines socially like they would treat other people. We found greater faith in technology due to the pandemic and a closing of the gap between humans and machines,’ said Jonathan Gratch. . . . ‘Our findings show that as people interacted more via machines during the past year, perceptions about the value of technology increased, which led to more favorable responses to machines,’ Gratch said.”
Gary Polakovic. 2021. “People Affected by COVID-19 Are Being Nicer to Machines.” Press release, University of Southern California, https://news.usc.edu/183589/covid-19-humans-nice-to-machines-usc-research/
Pouso and team evaluated how nature exposure influenced mental health during COVID pandemic lockdowns. They report that “Using a survey distributed online, we tested the following hypotheses: 1) People will show greater symptoms of depression and anxiety under lockdown conditions that did not allow contact with outdoor nature spaces; 2) Where access to public outdoor nature spaces was strictly restricted, (2a) those with green/blue nature view or (2b) access to private outdoor spaces such as a garden or balcony will show fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and a more positive mood. Based on 5218 responses from 9 countries, we found that lockdown severity significantly affected mental health, while contact with nature helped people to cope with these impacts, especially for those under strict lockdown. People under strict lockdown in Spain (3403 responses), perceived that nature helped them to cope with lockdown measures; and emotions were more positive among individuals with accessible outdoor spaces and blue-green elements in their views.”
Sarai Pouso, Angel Boria, Lora Fleming, Erik Gomez-Baggethun, Mathew White and Maria Uyarra. 2021. “Contact with Blue-Green Spaces During the COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdown Beneficial for Mental Health.” Science of the Total Environment, vol. 756, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143984
Park and Lee’s research findings will be of interest to people concerned about crime prevention through environmental design. The research duo collected data from people who are not burglars using virtual reality. Park and Lee report that their “study examines how the environmental features of residential property influence the choice of intrusion routes in a burglary, based on the assumption that burglars mainly judge whether there are proper intrusion routes rather than assessing the entire house. . . . participants tended to consider the risk of detection when comparing intrusion routes that do not function as normal entrances, such as the side-window and the 2nd-floor window. . . . Such a finding that the attributes of various environmental cues have a significant effect on the selection of the intrusion route implies that the intrusion route (not the entire house) should be considered as a basic unit when evaluating the vulnerability of a house to burglary and developing burglary prevention design strategies.”
So Park and Kyung Lee. 2021. “Burglars Choice of Intrusion Routes: A Virtual Reality Experimental Study.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, 101582, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2021.101582
Olszewska-Guizzo and colleagues studied links between nature experiences and the psychological state of people who lived in Singapore during its 7 week COVID-19 lockdown (known as a stay-at-home order or SHO). Data assessed were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic and immediately after the SHO ended. The research team determined, by showing participants videos of urban public spaces (Busy Downtown, Residential Green, and Lush Garden) filmed before the pandemic that “Post SHO, brain activity and responsiveness to landscapes changed. . . . high nature exposure [for example, going to parks] reported by Singaporeans during the SHO did not contribute to mitigating [reducing] the risk of depression.” The authors point out that during the SHO more people visited green spaces than usual, so there was less access to seating areas where visitors could relax and also that wearing masks and crowding, for example, may have kept pandemic related issues top-of-mind. In addition,“mask-wearing itself could have caused more sweating and/or breathing difficulties, especially in Singapore's tropical climate, which potentially degraded the overall nature experience.” In conclusion, “The provision of fully-functioning green urban spaces even in the times of pandemic, i.e. allowing social isolation, rest and relaxation in nature, forgetting about the pandemic struggles, may be the key for improved well-being of urbanites post-COVID-19.”
Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo, Anna Fogel, Nicolas Escoffer, and Roger Ho. “Effects of COVID-19-Related Stay-At-Home Order on Neuropsychophysiological Response to Urban Spaces: Beneficial Role of Exposure to Nature?” Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press, 101590, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2021.101590
Buxton and colleagues reviewed published studies on the implications of hearing nature sounds. They determined that “natural sounds improve health, increase positive affect [mood], and lower stress and annoyance. . . . Our review showed that natural sounds alone can confer health benefits. . . . water sounds had the largest effect on health and positive affective outcomes, while bird sounds had the largest effect on alleviating stress and annoyance.”
Rachel Buxton, Amber Pearson, Claudia Allou, Kurt Fristrup, and George Wittemyer. 2021. “A Synthesis of Health Benefits of Natural Sounds and Their Distribution in National Parks.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 118, no. 14, e2013097118, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2013097118
Adams’ text is a useful to designers intrigued by the idea of exploring the implications of design decisions. He writes in his introduction that the chapters in his book “delve into the sociological, psychological, and historical reasons for our responses [to design]. I explored these issues as a designer, as I am not a neurologist, psychologist, or sociologist. What visual and conceptual cues resonate, and why? This was my constant question.”
Sean Adams. 2021. How Design Makes Us Think and Feel and Do Things. Princeton Architectural Press; Hudson, NY.