Nejati, Rodiek, and Shepley studied surgical nurses’ ideas about what makes break rooms restorative spaces using visual simulations. They “assess[ed] the restorative potential of specific design features in hospital staff break areas, investigating nature-related indoor decor, daylight, window views, and direct access to outdoor environments.” The Nejati team found that when “On a scale of 1–10, nurses evaluated the restorative qualities of (a) direct access to the outdoors through a balcony, (b) an outdoor view through a window, (c) a nature artwork, and (d) an indoor plant, all depicted on images of the same two staff break areas. . . . ratings increased significantly based on higher levels of nature content, from no added amenities, to indoor plants, to nature artwork, to window views, to direct access to the outdoors through a balcony. . . . higher levels of access to nature, daylight, and outdoor environments are perceived to have significantly more restorative potential in healthcare workplaces.”
Adeleh Nejati, Susan Rodiek, and Mardelle Shepley. 2016. “Using Visual Simulation to Evaluate Qualities of Access to Nature in Hospital Staff Break Areas.” Landscape and Urban Planning, vol. 148, pp. 132-138.
Research by Wilkes and colleagues confirms the psychological benefits of seats that encourage sitting with good posture. As the investigators report, research has generally shown that “upright posture improves self-esteem and mood in [psychologically] healthy samples.” Wilkes and her team studied a group of people “with mild to moderate depression.” Some study participants were asked to sit with good posture and others were not. The researchers found that “The postural manipulation significantly improved posture and increased high arousal positive affect. . . . Upright shoulder angle was associated with lower negative affect and lower anxiety.” So, study participants who were asked to sit with better posture were in more positive moods and had more energy than people who were not instructed to sit up straight and sat however they chose.
Carissa Wilkes, Rob Kydd, Mark Sagar, and Elizabeth Broadbent. 2017. “Upright Posture Improves Affect and Fatigue in People with Depressive Symptoms.” Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, vol. 54 pp. 143-149.
Pineda and her team studied soundscapes in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Working with preterm infants born at 28 weeks or less gestation, placed either in private rooms or in open wards, the researchers learned that “There was [significantly] more silence in the private room . . . than the open ward, with an average of 1.9 hours more silence in a 16-hour period. . . . Understanding the NICU auditory environment paves the way for interventions that reduce high levels of adverse sound and enhance positive forms of auditory exposure, such as language.” The research team reports that premature infants in private rooms may not hear enough people talking, and this may harm their development. Previous research by Pineda indicated that babies treated in private rooms, when tested at age 2, did not have as advanced language skills as otherwise similar children who were treated in more open wards.
Roberta Pineda, Polly Durant, Amit Mathur, Terrie Inder, Michael Wallendorf, and Bradley Schlaggar. “Auditory Exposure in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: Room Type and Other Predictors.” The Journal of Pediatrics, in press.
Benson and Coleman have found that more older adults are choosing to “live apart together;” this new way of “co-habitating” has repercussions for home design, for example. As a press release related to the Benson/Coleman research details, “Since 1990, the divorce rate among adults 50 years and older has doubled. This trend, along with longer life expectancy, has resulted in many adults forming new partnerships later in life. A new phenomenon called ‘Living Apart Together’ (LAT)—an intimate relationship without a shared residence—is gaining popularity as an alternative form of commitment. . . . while the trend is well understood in Europe, it is lesser known in the U.S. . . . Benson and . . . Coleman . . . interviewed adults who were at least 60 years old and in committed relationships but lived apart. The researchers found that couples were motivated by desires to stay independent, maintain their own homes, sustain existing family boundaries, and remain financially independent.” Benson and Coleman’s study was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
“Older Adults Embracing ‘Living Apart Together.’” 2017. Press release, University of Missouri, http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2017/0209-older-adults-embracin...
A team lead by Hung confirmed that particular sorts of sounds are linked to certain shapes; their work is useful to people naming products and places, for example. The research by Hung, Styles, and Hsieh, published in Psychological Science, indicates that “Our tendency to match specific sounds with specific shapes, even abstract shapes, is so fundamental that it guides perception before we are consciously aware of it. . . . The ‘bouba-kiki’ effect, originally reported over 85 years ago and replicated many times since, shows that people consistently pair the soft-sounding nonsense word ‘bouba’ with soft-looking, round shapes and they typically pair the sharp-sounding nonsense word ‘kiki’ with spiky-looking, angular shapes. This effect seems to emerge across cultures and age groups.” A press release issued as the Hung/Styles/Hsieh study was published quotes author Shao-Min Hung of Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore as stating that “The findings here show that once we have learned the sound of a letter, we are able to . . . map this unconsciously extracted sound to an unconscious shape.’”
“Words Can Sound ‘Round’ or ‘Sharp’ Without Us Realizing It.” 2017. Press release, Association for Psychological Science, https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/words-can-sound-round...
A team of British researchers, Gardner, Smith, and Mansfield, studied the general public’s response to research encouraging people to spend less time sitting at work. Their findings indicate how important it is to effectively communicate with users when environments/objects are, or may be, changed. The Gardner team report that “In June 2015, an expert consensus guidance statement was published recommending that office workers accumulate 2–4 h of standing and light activity daily and take regular breaks from prolonged sitting. This paper describes public responses to media coverage of the guidance. . . . Challenges were made [via public comments on the coverage] to the novelty of the guidance, the credibility of its authors, the strength of its evidence base, and its applicability to [real-world] UK workplaces. Public health was commonly mistrusted and viewed as a tool for controlling the public. . . . Interventions to reduce sedentary behaviour should seek to increase motivation by clearly communicating the health relevance of sitting, standing and light physical activity, in language easily understood by a general public that may lack sufficient interest to process nuanced messages discerning static and ‘active’ standing. . . . Such interventions might also present evidence to tackle potential disbelief in the health value of displacing sitting with standing.”
Benjamin Gardner, Lee Smith, and Louise Mansfield. 2017. “How Did the Public Respond to the 2015 Expert Consensus Public Health Guidance Statement on Workplace Sedentary Behaviour? A Qualitative Analysis.” BMC Public Health, https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-016-39...
Kaiser, Schreier, and Janiszewski link product customization and enhanced performance. Their research “demonstrates that the self-expressive customization [this would be a modification that reflects the user’s beliefs, ideas about who they are as a person, membership in a group, etc.] of a product can improve performance on tasks performed using the customized product. Five studies show that the effect is robust across different types of tasks (e.g., persistence tasks, concentration tasks, agility tasks). The evidence further shows that the effect is not due to changes in product efficacy [effectiveness] beliefs, feelings of competence, feelings of accomplishment. . . . Instead, the self-expressive customization of a product extends an identity (e.g., personal identity, group identity) into the product. When the product is subsequently used to pursue a goal whose desired outcome can affirm the extended identity, performance improves.” So, if a knife is customized to indicate that someone is a chef, performance will improve on tasks related to being a chef.
Ulrike Kaiser, Martin Schreier, and Chris Janiszewski. “The Self-Expressive Customization of a Product Can Improve Your Performance.” Journal of Marketing Research, in press.
Wang, Krishna, and McFerran studied how consumers’ environmentally responsible behavior is affected by the actions of organizations. They report that “Firms can save considerable money if consumers conserve resources (e.g., if hotel patrons turn off the lights when leaving the room, restaurants patrons use fewer paper napkins, or airline passengers clean up after themselves).” Data gathered “in real-world hotels . . . show that consumers' conservation behavior is affected by the extent to which consumers perceive the firm as being green. . . . consumer perceptions of firms' greenness and consumer conservation behavior depend on (a) whether the firm requests them to conserve resources, (b) the firm's own commitment to the environment, and (c) the firm's price image. . . . firm requests to consumers to save resources can create consumer reactance [resistance] and can backfire when firms themselves do not engage in visible costly environmental efforts. Such reactance is more likely for firms with a high price image. . . . by spending a little money to signal environmental commitment, firms can save even more money through consumers' conservation of resources, resulting in wins for the firm, the consumer, and the environment."
Wenbo Wang, Aradhna Krishna, and Brent McFerran. “Turning Off the Lights: Consumers’ Environmental Efforts Depend on Visible Efforts of Firms.” Journal of Marketing Research, in press.
Currie studied how the design of small urban parks. She learned that “Public parks contribute to neighbourhood quality of life, promote a more public daily life, serve as important focal points for neighbourhoods, and provide access to nearby nature as part of the built environment. . . . This research identified design principles that good, small urban parks share – including accessibility, specificity, authenticity, functionality, and adaptability – applicable in smaller cities, towns, and lower density areas.”
Melissa Currie. 2017. “A Design Framework for Small Parks in Ultra-Urban, Metropolitan, Suburban and Small Town Settings.” Journal of Urban Design, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 76-95.
Brookfield probed how resident preferences align with neighborhood design elements that have been tied to walkability. She found, after conducting focus groups with eleven residents’ groups with diverse sets of participants, that “Residents’ groups favoured providing a selection of services and facilities addressing a local need, such as a corner shop, within a walkable distance, but not the immediate vicinity, of housing. . . . Participants wanted their homes to be ‘insulated’ from the perceived disturbance ‒ noise, traffic, parking, anti-social behaviour ‒ of non-residential uses by a ‘buffer’ of residential properties. . . overall the majority preference was for one that would take 10 to 15 minutes to cross on foot. . . . Uses such as offices, hotels, supermarkets, nightclubs, industry, warehousing and waste management were opposed in residential areas partly because they were assumed to introduce unwelcome noise. . . . traffic, pollution, parking problems and anti-social behaviour. . . . . a strong preference for green, leafy residential environments was identified. . . . . Providing housing at high densities ‒ specifically flats and small, tightly packed houses providing no private outdoor space ‒ was uniformly seen as unappealing and problematic.”
Katherine Brookfield. 2017. “Residents’ Preference for Walkable Neighbourhoods.” Journal of Urban Design, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 44-58.
Barnes and Wineman investigated employees’ bonds to their workplaces. At the 2017 SPSP conference they reported that data were collected in the course of a workplace redesign project: “In a longitudinal study our team examined worker satisfaction, wellbeing, work effectiveness and engagement within workplace environments on a large university campus. Findings suggest that perception of loss is a predictor of [lower] worker satisfaction and that designing for functional fit does not solve the impact of perceived loss.”
Janice Barnes and Jean Wineman. 2017. “Perception of Loss and Workplace Satisfaction.” Society of Personality and Social Psychology Annual Conference, January 21, San Antonio, TX, Program, p. 151.
Ellard and his team reported on their work at the 2016 Psychology of Architecture conference. They shared that they “have developed a toolkit using specially programmed mobile phones and sensor technology that permits rapid assessment of psychological and physiological responses to place. Participants in our experiments are led on curated walks while prompted to answer self-assessment questions, complete cognitive tests, and are monitored for physiological arousal and some simple indices of brain activity. Findings from experiments conducted in five different cities have shown a strong dependence of mental state on façade design and landscape architecture. Participants not only preferred higher complexity façades, but such designs also showed higher affective states and physiological arousal. Measures of eye movements also suggested that higher complexity locations elicited increased cognitive processing. Locations rich in greenspace showed both high affect and low arousal, but impeded performance on a test of sustained attention.”
Colin Ellard, Vedran Dzebic, Hanna Negami, Emily Grant, Robin Mazumdar, and Adam Francey. 2016. “Field Investigations of the Relationship Between Place and Psychological State Using Mobile Sensor Technology.” Psychology of Architecture Conference, December 5, Austin, TX, Program, p. 33.
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience indicates that we may be quicker to focus our thoughts in some locations than others. A press release from Duke reports that “We are constantly being bombarded with attention-grabbing distractions, from the flashy shop fronts and advertisements that flank the side of the road to the tempting buzz of the phone during a meeting with the boss. For a long time, brain scientists believed that maintaining focus in these situations required a cascade of mental events: momentary distraction, followed by the realization that our attention has been diverted and a conscious effort to bring it back on the task at hand. But recent research shows that our brains actually have a clever mechanism for outwitting these distractions. With repeated practice, environmental cues -- such as a particularly busy intersection, or your boss’s office -- can trigger the brain to jump directly into a more focused state, bypassing distraction and saving precious time.”
“Triggering the Brain’s ‘Auto-Focus.” 2017. Press release, Duke University (written by Kara Manke), https://today.duke.edu/CaudateNucleus
Green spaces and bodies of water influence city development. Roebeling and team found that “Urban green/blue spaces are put under pressure as urban areas grow, develop and evolve. It is increasingly recognized, however, that green/blue spaces provide important ecosystem services, stimulate higher real estate prices and prevent flooding problems. . . . Results show four major tendencies regarding the value-added of green/blue spaces in urban landscapes: (1) cities become more compact; (2) population densities increase; (3) real estate values rise; and (4) demographic distribution patterns change. The magnitude of these impacts depends, however, on the quality and size of the intervention [i.e. green/blue space], the social classes attracted to the intervention area and on the location of the intervention relative to existing residential areas, urban centres, road infrastructure and environmental amenities.”
Peter Roebeling, Miguel Saraiva, Anna Palla, Ilaria Gnecco, Carla Teotonio, Teresa Fidelis, Filomena Martins, Henrique Alves, and Joao Rocha. 2017. “Assessing the Socio-Economic Impacts of Green/Blue Space, Urban Residential and Road Infrastructure Projects in the Confluence (Lyon): A Hedonic Pricing Simulation Approach.” Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, vol. 60, no. 3, pp. 482-489.
Brooks and team’s study indicates how important it is to design spaces so that they support rituals. The researchers found that “From public speaking to first dates, people frequently experience performance anxiety. And when experienced immediately before or during performance, anxiety harms performance. Across a series of experiments, we explore the efficacy of a common strategy that people employ to cope with performance-induced anxiety: rituals. We define a ritual as a predefined sequence of symbolic actions often characterized by formality and repetition that lack direct instrumental purpose. Using different instantiations of rituals and measures of anxiety (both physiological and self-report), we find that enacting rituals improves performance in public and private performance domains by decreasing anxiety.”
Alison Brooks, Julianna Schroeder, Jane Risen, Francesca Gino, Adam Galinsky, Michael Norton, and Maurice Schweitzer. 2016. “Don’t Stop Believing: Rituals Improve Performance by Decreasing Anxiety.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, vol. 137, pp. 71-85.
Lathia and colleagues have identified ties between physical activity and happiness. As they report, “Although exercise has also been linked to psychological health (e.g., happiness), little research has examined physical activity more broadly, taking into account non-exercise activity as well as exercise. We examined the relationship between physical activity (measured broadly) and happiness using a smartphone application. . . . . The findings reveal that individuals who are more physically active are happier. Further, individuals are happier in the moments when they are more physically active. These results emerged when assessing activity subjectively, via self-report, or objectively, via participants' smartphone accelerometers. Overall, this research suggests that not only exercise but also non-exercise physical activity is related to happiness.” Data were collected from “over ten thousand participants.” Information on physical activity was gathered using accelerometers on participants’ phones.
Neal Lathia, Gillian Sandstrom, Cecilia Mascolo, and Peter Rentfrow. 2017. “Happier People Live More Active Lives: Using Smartphones to Link Happiness and Physical Activity.” PLoS ONE, vol. 12, no. 1, e0160589.
Looking at pictures that stir strong emotions influences how human brains work. So, pictures that pack an emotional wallop, whether it’s positive or negative, need to be used with caution. Quoting Sutherland and his team: “Emotionally arousing stimuli are attention grabbing and highly memorable, and they also have influences on attention and memory that continue after the removal of the emotional stimulus. This is thought to occur due to changes in cognition that allow one to more easily adapt to harmful or threatening circumstances, or to engage in reward-seeking activity. . . . Here we corroborate that finding and report evidence that positive and negative arousing images impair top-down attention. Yet these effects were limited to animal stimuli and not observed with object stimuli [this means that the effects on thinking were found when people were asked to look at pictures of animals after they had looked at those emotion-generating images]. . . . Emotions change how one sees the world, and here we demonstrate that brief exposure to an emotionally arousing stimulus changes how bottom-up and top-down influences interact during perception. . . . For one to understand why people attend to some things and ignore others, a person’s emotional state should be considered.”
Matthew Sutherland, Douglas McQuiggan, Jennifer Ryan, and Mara Mather. “Perceptual Salience Does Not Influence Emotional Arousal’s Impairing Effects on Top-Down Attention.” Emotion, in press.
Researchers have found that people’s sense of balance is impaired when they talk on cell phones – another reason to make sure circulation spaces, plazas, and the like, are free of trip hazards, etc. A study-related press release reports that “cell phone texting and talking can have a negative effect on one’s balance during everyday activities. . . . cell phone texting during exercise significantly impacts postural stability – by 45 percent — when compared to no cell phone use. The investigation also revealed that talking on a cell phone while exercising reduces postural stability by 19 percent. Listening to music on a cell phone, on the other hand, has no notable impact on postural stability during exercise, the study showed.”
“Your Cell Phone Could Curb the Intensity of Your Workout.” 2017. Press release, Hiram College, http://www.hiram.edu/hiram-news/your-cell-phone-could-curb-the-intensity-of-your-workout/.
Like the blog posts you’re reading? Get access to Research Design Connections’ in depth research-based reviews of important design-related topics—and library of over 2,400 past articles on everything from aesthetics to zoo design—by subscribing ($99/yr.) to our monthly magazine at https://researchdesignconnections.com/product/rdc-subscription