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Browning and colleagues have determined that virtual nature experiences can have the same effects on mental health as “real” ones.  The team reports that “Nature exposure in virtual reality (VR) can provide emotional well-being benefits for people who cannot access the outdoors. . . . [the researchers compared] the effects of 6 min of outdoor nature exposure with 6 min of exposure to a 360-degree VR nature video, which is recorded at the outdoor nature exposure location. Skin conductivity, restorativeness, and mood before and after exposure are measured. We find that both types of nature exposure increase physiological arousal, benefit positive mood levels, and are restorative compared to an indoor setting without nature; however, for outdoor exposure, positive mood levels increase and for virtual nature, they stay the same. . . . Settings where people have limited access to nature might consider using VR nature experiences to promote mental health.”

Matthew Browning, Katherine Mimnaugh, Carena van Riper, Heidemarie Laurent, and Steven LaValle.  2020.  “Can Simulated Nature Support Mental Health?  Comparing Short, Single-Does of 360-Degree Nature Videos in Virtual Reality with the Outdoors.”  Frontiers in Psychology,                

Researchers from McGill and the University of California, Santa Cruz have identified a cause of increasing urban sprawl. Barrington-Leigh and Millard-Ball report that “the local streets of the world’s cities are becoming less connected, a global trend that is driving urban sprawl and discouraging the use of public transportation. . . . in large parts of the world, recent urban growth has increasingly resulted in inflexible and disconnected street networks. . . . Gridded street networks . . . promote efficient, dense urban form in Bolivia, Argentina and Peru. Germany, Denmark and the UK have been able to maintain moderate levels of street connectivity thanks to pedestrian and bicycle pathways, offering greater connectivity to non-motorized travel. . . . Past research has shown that the increased accessibility offered by gridded street networks makes walking, cycling and the use of public transit much simpler while cul-de-sacs tend to encourage the use of personal motorized vehicles.”  Data were collected from OpenStreetMap and via satellites and findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Street Network Patterns Reveal Worrying Worldwide Trend Towards Urban Sprawl.”  2020. Press release, McGill University,

Meredith and colleagues investigated the mental health consequences of college students spending time in nature.  They determined via a literature review that “when contrasted with equal durations spent in urbanized settings, as little as 10 min of sitting or walking in a diverse array of natural settings significantly and positively impacted defined psychological and physiological markers of mental well-being for college-aged individuals.”

Genevive Meredith, Donald Rakow, Erin Eldermire, Cecelia Madsen, Steven Shelley, and Naomi Sachs. 2020.  “Minimum Time Dose in Nature to Positively Impact the Mental Health of College-Aged Students, and How to Measure It:  A Scoping Review.”  Frontiers in Psychology,

Jung, Mood, and Nelson identified one of the reasons that users’ actual in-place experiences may not align with what other people anticipate they will be.  The Jung-lead team determined that “when making predictions about others, people rely on their intuitive core representation of the experience (e.g., is the experience generally positive?) in lieu of a more complex representation that might also include countervailing aspects (e.g., is any of the experience negative?). . . . the overestimation bias is pervasive for a wide range of positive . . . and negative experiences. . . . relative to themselves, people believe that an identically paying other will get more enjoyment from the same experience, but paradoxically, that an identically enjoying other will pay more for the same experience.”  We feel that others’ experiences will be more purely positive or negative than ours are in the same situations.  So, in short, we estimate that, compared to ourselves, other people will pay or wait more for an experience seen as desirable, as well as will enjoy it more when it is in-process.  With undesirable experiences, we estimate other people will be willing to pay more to avoid them and that others will find them worse than we would.

Minah Jung, Alice Mood, and Leif Nelson.  “Overestimating the Valuations and Preferences of Others.”  Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, in press,

Research by Cowen, Keltner, Fang, and Sauter indicates that there are 13 consistent emotional responses to music; future research, indicating if these findings can be generalized to experiences beyond hearing music, will be useful. Researchers “surveyed more than 2,500 people in the United States and China about their emotional responses to . . . songs from genres including rock, folk, jazz, classical, marching band, experimental and heavy metal.The upshot? The subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings: Amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and feeling pumped up.”  Also, “While both U.S. and Chinese study participants identified similar emotions — such as feeling fear when hearing the ‘Jaws’ movie score — they differed on whether those emotions made them feel good or bad. . . . Across cultures, study participants mostly agreed on general emotional characterizations of musical sounds, such as anger, joy and annoyance. But their opinions varied on the level of ‘arousal,’ which refers in the study to the degree of calmness or stimulation evoked by a piece of music.” This study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Ooh La La!  Music evokes at Least 13 motions.  Scientists Have Mapped Them.”  2020.  Press release (written by Yasmin Anwar), University of California Berkeley,

Research published in PLoS ONE sheds light on Neolithic housing; these findings may have consequences for modern design.  Investigators report that “Human behaviour is influenced by many things, most of which remain unconscious to us. One of these is a phenomenon known among perception psychologists as ‘pseudo-neglect’. This refers to the observation that healthy people prefer their left visual field to their right and therefore divide a line regularly left of centre. . . . A Slovak-German research team has investigated the alignment of early Neolithic houses in Central and Eastern Europe. Scientists . . . were able to prove that the orientation of newly built houses deviated by a small amount from that of existing buildings and that this deviation was regularly counterclockwise. Archaeologist Dr. Nils Müller-Scheeßel . . . says: ‘. . . We see ‘Pseudoneglect’ as the most likely cause of this.’ . . . similar changes in orientation also seem to apply to more recent prehistoric periods.”

“Always Counterclockwise: Puzzle of Early Neolithic House Orientations Finally Solved.”  2020. Press release, Christian-Albrechts-Universitat zu Kiel,

Patania and colleagues the experiences of people exercising while listening to music with different tempos. They evaluated data collected “during endurance (walking for 10’ at 6.5 km/h on a treadmill) and high intensity (80% on 1-RM) exercise under four different randomly assigned conditions: without music (NM), with music at 90 - 110 bpm [beats per minute] (LOW), with music at 130 - 150 bpm (MED) and with music at 170 - 190 bpm (HIGH). During each trial, heart rate (HR) and the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) were assessed. . . . RPE showed more substantial changes during the endurance exercises (11%,) than during high intensity exercise (6.5%,) between HIGH and NM conditions. The metabolic demand during the walking exercise increased between NM and HIGH bpm conditions. This study indicates the benefits of music under stress conditions as well as during endurance and high intensity training. The results demonstrate that the beneficial effects of music are more likely to be seen in endurance exercise.”

Maria Patania, Johnny Padulo, Enzo Iuliano, Luca Ardigo, Drazen Cular, Alen Miletic, and Andrea De Giorgio. “The Psychophysiological Effects of Different Temp Music on Endurance Versus High-Intensity Performances.”  Frontiers in Psychology, in press, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00074

Research published in Sustainabilityindicates that even apparently low levels of outdoor light at night can degrade human lives.  A research team lead by Grubisicdetermined that “even low light intensities of urban skyglow can suppress melatonin production. Melatonin synchronizes the day-night-rhythm in animals and humans. It adjusts the circadian clocks of cells, tissues and organs, and regulates other seasonal processes like reproduction. . . . The sensitivity threshold for humans is 6 lux – street lighting is typically higher.  Artificial light at night can disturb the nocturnal melatonin production. . . . For comparison, the illuminance levels at night: On a starry night, the illuminance is 0.001 lux. On a full-moon night it reaches a maximum of 0.3 lux. The skyglow of a city, a form of light pollution, can reach illuminances of up to 0.1 lux, and outdoor lighting on the order of 150 lux.. . .The light from artificial lighting shines into the night sky, brighter with rain and snow, and is reflected by clouds and particles, which is called skyglow.”

“Light Pollution Can Suppress Melatonin Production in Humans and Animals.”  2019.  Press release, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries,

Researchers have learned more about language-related variations in emotional experiences; since the forms of physical environments influence moods, this work is relevant to designers. Investigators report in an article published in Sciencethat “Psychology researchers . . . studied [2,500] languages around the world and found that the way humans conceptualize emotions like anger, fear, joy and sadness may differ across speakers of different languages. . . . languages describe emotions differently across the globe. For example, some languages view grief as similar to fear and anxiety, whereas others view grief as similar to regret. . . . all languages distinguish emotions primarily based on whether they are pleasant or unpleasant to experience, and whether they involve low or high levels of arousal. For example, few languages view the low-arousal emotion of sadness as similar to the high-arousal emotion of anger, and few languages viewed the pleasant emotion of ‘happy’ as similar to the unpleasant emotion of ‘regret.’ This suggests that there are universal elements of emotion experience that may stem from biological evolution.”

“The Meaning of Emotions May Differ Across the World, New Research Shows.”  2019.  Press release, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,

Van Liempd, Oudgenoeg-Paz, and Leseman studied links between childcare center design and kids’ (aged 6 months to 6 years old) behavior.  They reviewed published studies related to the design of indoor play areas at center-based early childhood care and education spaces, learning that “children of 2–3 years of age felt more free to move further away from the caregiver if the room was divided in open zones so that they could keep eye-contact with the caregiver. . . . such a spatial arrangement apparently . . .  enables them to autonomously explore the physical environment, which is regarded of central importance for cognitive and language development. . . . if a ‘special’ place was created where children could play alone, this place was rather frequently used for solitary play, and if such a place was not present, children turned to other (non-play) areas to be alone. . . .Daycare educators wanting to encourage young children's autonomous exploration of the playroom and to stimulate peer interactions should create playrooms that are divided in zones by way of low visual barriers . . . [with] a variety of designated, appropriately equipped play areas.”

Ine van Liempd, Ora Oudgenoeg-Paz, and Paul Leseman.  “Do Spatial Characteristics Influence Behavior and Development in Early Childhood Education and Care?” Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press,


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