Mid-April 2017

Thermal Comfort Tool from the CBE (04-13-17)

At the web address below, the Center for the Built Environment at Berkeley shares a free tool for evaluating thermal comfort.

As the web page introducing the tool states, the CBE’s objectives were, in part, to “Develop a web-based graphical user interface for thermal comfort prediction according to ASHRAE Standard 55. Include models for conventional building systems (predicted mean vote) and also for comfort using the adaptive comfort model, and with increased air speeds (for example, when using fans for cooling).”

The CBE reports on the same website that “The standard convention of attempting to maintain a narrow temperature band can be an energy-intensive practice. Instead, using CBE’s comfort prediction tools with ASHRAE Standard-55 as a guide, designers may find that a wider temperature band will provide adequate comfort and save a significant amount of energy. . . . the tool can be used to assess the comfort of low-energy designs.  A building that has provisions for air-movement (such as ceiling fans or desk fans) can use the predicted mean vote (PMV) model with elevated airspeed. In a naturally ventilated building, the adaptive comfort model can be used. This tool . . . verif[ies] compliance with ASHRAE Standard 55-2013.”  The thermal comfort of various scenarios can be compared.

The CBE thermal comfort tool is available at:  https://www.cbe.berkeley.edu/research/thermal-tool.htm#publications

Workplace Preferences (04-12-17)

Chadburn, Smith, and Milan studied the reactions of knowledge-workers in London to various workplace options.  They found that this group responded positively to “a flexible range of office settings that enable both a stimulating open and connected work environment, knowledge sharing, collaboration, as well as, quiet concentration locations, free of distractions and noise. . . . hot-desking was unanimously disliked by knowledge workers.”

Ana Chadburn, Judy Smith, and Joshua Milan.  2017.  “Productivity Drivers of Knowledge Workers in the Central London Office Environment.”  Journal of Corporate Real Estate, vol. 19, no. 2, http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/JCRE-12-2015-0047

Implications of Urban Green Spaces (04-11-17)

Researchers from the Universities of York and Edinburgh studied responses to busy and green urban spaces.  They determined that among the people over 65 who participated in their study “Walking between busy urban environments and green spaces triggers changes in levels of excitement, engagement and frustration in the brain. . . . volunteers. . . wore a mobile EEG head-set which recorded their brain activity when walking between busy and green urban spaces.  The research team also ran a video of the routes the people walked, asking the participants to describe ‘snapshots’ of how they felt. The volunteers were also interviewed before and after. The volunteers experienced beneficial effects of green space and preferred it, as it was calming and quieter, the study revealed.  Dr. Chris Neale, Research Fellow, from the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute, said: ‘Urban green space has a role to play in contributing to a supportive city environment for older people through mediating the stress induced by built up settings. We found that older participants experienced beneficial effects of green space whilst walking between busy built urban environments and urban green space environments.’”

“Why Green Spaces are Good for Grey Matter.” 2017.  Press release, University of York, https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2017/research/green-spaces-g...

Neighborhood Noise and BMI (04-10-17)

Researchers studied ties between neighborhood noise levels and body mass index.  Their study “links the sounds of all-night car horn blasts and shouting by bar revelers in New York City’s noisiest neighborhoods to unexplained improvements in body weight and blood pressure for the urban poor living there. ‘To be clear, we’re not saying that neighborhood noise causes better health, and a lot of further research is needed to explain the relationship we found between this kind of disturbance and health,’ says senior study investigator and NYU Langone epidemiologist Dustin Duncan, ScD. ‘It may just be that New York’s noisiest neighborhoods are also the most walkable and that its residents get more exercise that way.’ . . . Specifically, researchers observed relatively lower body mass index (or BMI, a measure of body weight by height) and blood pressure among . . . men and women in the city’s noisiest neighborhoods.  All . . .  participants . . . lived in affordable public housing. . . . Researchers gauged noise levels based on . . . noise complaints placed to the city’s 3-1-1 non-emergency phone system in 2014. . . . participants volunteered to carry GPS tracking devices for a week to track in real time where they spent their spare time.”  The study reporting these findings is published in the Journal of Community Health.

“Could New York Neighborhood Noise Be Good for Poor Residents?”  2017.  Press release, NYU Langone Medical Center, http://nyulangone.org/press-releases/could-new-york-neighborhood-noise-b...

Homes and Wellbeing: Older Adults (04-07-17)

Kylen and her colleagues investigated how living situations influenced the wellbeing of people aged 67-70.  They found that “depression was less common among participants who reported . . . bonding to the home, and among those who felt that they had control over their housing situation. . . . external housing-related control beliefs were associated with psychological well-being.”  So, generally, housing-related control was linked to greater psychological wellbeing and lower likelihood of depression.  Data were collected in southern Sweden.

Maya Kylen, Steven Schmidt, Susanne Iwarsson, Maria Haak, and Henrik Ekstrom.  “Perceived Home is Associated with Depressive Mood and Psychological Well-Being - Results from a Cohort Aged 67-70 Years.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press.

Aesthetics and Use (04-06-17)

Research by Wu and his team identified new links between aesthetics and use.  They determined that “While prior research suggests enhanced aesthetics should have a uniformly positive influence on pre-usage evaluations and choice, the present research examines the downstream effects of nondurable product aesthetics on consumption behavior and post-consumption affect [mood]. . . . We find that highly aesthetic [beautiful] products elicit greater perceptions of effort in their creation, and that consumers have an intrinsic appreciation for such effort.  Because the consumption process indirectly destroys the effort invested to make the product beautiful, people reduce consumption of such products because usage would entail destroying something they naturally appreciate. . . when individuals do consume a beautiful product, they exhibit lower consumption enjoyment and increased negative affect [mood].”  These findings relate specifically to nondurable products, but may have implications for other situations, such as those in which durable products have been decorated in appealing ways and use may degrade those decorations, for example.

Freeman Wu, Adriana Samper, Andrea Morales, and Gavan Fitzsimons.  "It's Too Pretty to Use!  When and How Enhanced Product Aesthetics Discourage Usage and Lower Consumption Enjoyment."  Journal of Consumer Research, in press.

Visibility and Green Behavior (04-05-17)

Brick, Sherman and Kim studied when people were more or less likely to behave in pro-environmental ways.  They determined that “When an environmentalist considers a pro-environmental behavior such as carrying reusable grocery bags, being observed by others . . .  may increase behavior (‘green to be seen’). When an anti-environmentalist considers a pro-environmental behavior . . . being observed may lead to less behavior (‘brown to keep down’). . . . antienvironmentalists do behave in ways that help the environment, especially in private. . . . interventions [to encourage pro-environmental behavior] for anti-environmentalists or the general public may be more effective when targeting private behaviors. . . . environmentalists are more likely to engage in public pro-environmental behaviors, and therefore interventions targeted at environmentalists should consider focusing on high visibility behaviors that environmentalists are already motivated to adopt but have room to improve, such as reducing personal air travel.”

Cameron Brick, David Sherman, and Heejung Kim.  “’Green to Be Seen’ and ‘Brown to Keep Down’:  Visibility Moderates the Effect of Identity on Pro-Environmental Behavior.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press.

Position and Value (04-04-17)

Zohar-Shai and Tzelgov confirmed that our mental number line (MNL) runs from left to right with smaller values to the left.  They share that “Several studies . . . have reported [findings indicating] that. . .  the ‘mental number line’ extends from left to right. The . . .  effect has been found mainly in native speakers of Germanic/Romanic languages; it has been suggested that the . . . effect may derive from the experience of reading from left to right. . . . we provide the first demonstration of a horizontal, left-to-right . . . effect in native speakers of Hebrew. . . . the left-to-right direction of the MNL might reflect a nativistic foundation of such orientation that is independent of cultural factors. Such an interpretation is supported by the findings that indicate a predisposition to represent numerical magnitudes in a left-to-right direction in newborn human babies. . . . 7-month-old infants prefer an increasing left-to-right display of magnitude (de Hevia et al., 2014).”  These findings have implications for the display of objects, for example.

Bar Zohar-Shai and Joseph Tzelgov.  2017.  “It Does Exist!  A Left-to-Right Spatial-Numerical Association of Response Codes (SNARC) Effect Among Native Hebrew Speakers.”  Journal of Experimental Psychology:  Human Perception and Performance, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 719-728.

Lighting ICUs for Patient Wellbeing (03-31-17)

The lighting in hospital intensive care units influences patients' wellbeing, even a year after they are discharged from the hospital.  Researchers have found that “With light adapted to the time of day, health even improves for patients who are barely conscious when they are admitted for care. . . . In order to counterbalance the traditional ICU department with low levels of daylight and nights when lighting is frequently turned on [researchers tested an] experimental environment with so-called cyclical lighting that changed during the day. . . . Mornings began with a weak, reddish dawn light, which, at around 8 am turned to a strong, blue light similar to daylight. In the middle of the day, the strength of the light was reduced slightly so that patients would also be able to experience existing daylight to subsequently be increased again in the afternoon.  Towards the evening, the light became weaker and warmer again. At that time, the light sources were also placed at a lower height; in the evening only a weak and warm light was emitted from the skirting boards. . . . ‘The patients were very satisfied with the lighting environment. It had a calming function and helped in supporting the circadian rhythm. . . .’ says Marie Engwall. . . . [a survey conducted 12 months after their discharge from the hospital found that] ‘Patients cared for in our experimental room demonstrated significantly better self-rated recovery . . . compared to patients in the control group. . . .’ says Marie Engwall.”

“Patients in Intensive Care Feel Better with Light Adapted to the Time of Day.”  2017.  Press release, University of Gothenburg, http://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=174128&CultureCode=en

More Research on Visual Fractals (03-30-17)

In visual fractals the same patterns repeat at different scales.  For illustrations of fractals, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractal#fractals_in_nature.

Taylor and Spehar report that seeing moderately complex fractals reduces stress:  “Humans are continually exposed to the rich visual complexity generated by the repetition of fractal patterns at different size scales. Fractals are prevalent in natural scenery [for example]. . . . we . . . investigate the powerful significance of fractals for the human visual system. In particular, we propose that fractals with midrange complexity (D = 1.3–1.5 measured on a scale between D = 1.1 for low complexity and D = 1.9 for high complexity) play a unique role in our visual experiences because the visual system has adapted to these prevalent natural patterns. . . . the visual system processes mid-D fractals with relative ease. This fluency optimizes the observer’s capabilities (such as enhanced attention and pattern recognition) and generates an aesthetic experience accompanied by a reduction in the observer’s physiological stress levels.”

Richard Taylor and Branka Spehar.  2016.  “Fractal Fluency:  An Intimate Relationship Between the Brain and Processing of Fractal Stimuli.”  In A. Di Ieva (ed.) The Fractal Geometry of the Brain, Springer:  New York, pp. 485-496.

Spicy Food and Aggression (03-29-17)

Batra and his colleagues investigated the relationship between tasting spicy food or seeing spicy food and how aggressive people are.  They found that “consumption of, and even mere exposure to spicy food [seeing pictures of it, for example], can semantically activate concepts related to aggression as well as lead to higher levels of perceived aggressive intent in others.”  These findings indicate that care should be exercised when using images of spicy foods to decorate spaces, etc. and also that the design of spaces where spicy foods are likely to be consumed should be relatively calming, to at least partially compensate for the effects that spicy food seen or consumed has on aggression.

Rishtee Batra, Tanuka Ghoshal, and Rajagopal Raghunathan.  2017.  “You Are What You Eat:  An Empirical Investigation of the Relationship Between Spicy Food and Aggressive Cognition.”  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 71, pp. 42-48. 

Virtual Reality, Mood, and Feeling Mentally Refreshed (03-24-17)

Schutte and her team have learned that time spent in virtual reality nature, compared to time spent in virtual reality urban spaces, can lead to better moods.  Also, people who experience virtual reality nature believe that they are more refreshed mentally (in other words, that they are more cognitively restored) after spending time there than the people placed in the virtual urban places.  The researchers immersed users in 360-degree natural or urban interactive virtual environments and learned that “Virtual reality experience of a natural environment compared to virtual reality experience of an urban environment resulted in higher levels of positive affect [mood] and a greater perception of restorativeness. . . . Virtual reality technology may have the potential to enhance well-being.”  Schutte and colleagues’ insights may be particularly useful when virtual reality experiences are being developed to optimize workplace performance, etc.

Nicola Schutte, Navjot Bhullar, Emma Stilinovic, and Katheryn Richardson.  2017.  “The Impact of Virtual Environments on Restorativeness and Affect.”  Ecopsychology, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-7.

Thinking About Temperature: Consequences (03-23-17)

Halali and colleagues learned that just thinking about temperature has a serious effect on how our brains work.  After the researchers got people thinking about temperature, by, for example, showing them various landscapes “associated with cool vs. warm temperatures [and asking them to imagine themselves in the location shown] . . . . cool compared to warm temperatures lead to improved performance on . . . an established cognitive control measure.”  Landscapes viewed were cold and snowy or warm and sunny, for example.  When people have less cognitive control, their ability to pay attention and process emotional information appropriately may be impaired, for example.

E. Halali, N. Meiran, and I. Shalev.  2017.  “Keep It Cool:  Temperature Priming Effect on Cognitive Control.”  Psychological Research, vol. 81, no. 2, pp. 343-354.

Designing Observed Busyness into US Workplaces (03-22-17)

Bellezza, Paharia, and Keinan found that people link appearing busy with perceived higher status, at least in American workplaces.  Their findings indicate that it may be desirable to eliminate visual shielding around some busy people, in the US, for example, those doing work that doesn’t require them to focus.  The Bellezza team determined that “Americans increasingly perceive busy and overworked people as having high status. . . . the authors conducted a series of studies, drawing participants mostly from Italy and the US. While busyness at work is associated with high status among Americans, the effect is reversed for Italians, who still view a leisurely life as representative of high status.”

“Lack of Leisure:  Is Busyness the New Status Symbol.”  2017.  Press release, Journal of Consumer Researchhttp://www.ejcr.org/publicity/2017-March/March2017Release1.pdf

Smart Phones and Wayfinding Ability (03-20-17)

Sanders has reviewed the research on the effects of smart phone based navigation tools on our ability to find our way through spaces without them, among other topics.  As she reports, “Instead of checking a map and planning a route before a trip, people can now rely on their smartphones to do the work for them. . . .  Our navigational skills may be at risk as we shift to neurologically easier ways to find our way, says cognitive neuroscientist Véronique Bohbot of McGill University in Montreal.  Historically, getting to the right destination required a person to have the lay of the land, a mental map of the terrain. That strategy takes more work than one that’s called a ‘response strategy,’ the type of navigating that starts with an electronic voice command. . . .  A response strategy is easier, but it leaves people with less knowledge. People who walked through a town in Japan with human guides did a better job later navigating the same route than people who had walked with GPS as a companion, researchers have found.”  Use of GPS-type apps to navigate through spaces may ultimately have implications for wayfinding signage/systems, inside and out.  More signage may need to be posted, for example, so it is available to assist visitors who used electronic systems to initially guide their travels through an area, but whose GPS-type navigation aids are unavailable temporarily.

Laura Sanders.  2017.  “Smartphones May Be Changing the Way We Think.”  Science News, vol. 191, no. 6, p. 18 OR https://www.sciencenews.org/article/smartphones-may-be-changing-way-we-think?mode=magazine&context=192874

More on Symmetry (03-17-17)

Research by Westphal-Fitch and Fitch confirms that visual symmetry is valued by humans.  They learned that “symmetrical patterns are not only used most frequently in real life . . .  [they] are rated as significantly more attractive than are random patterns.”

Gesche Westphal-Fitch and Tecumseh Fitch.  “Beauty for the Eye of the Beholder:  Plane Pattern Perception and Production.”  Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press.


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