Environment and Neuroscience

One of the major determinants of human behavior and health is the built environment. The rapid urbanization of our planet (currently >50% of humanity lives in Cities) means that human psychology will be under significant pressure.

The aim is to build offices, hospitals, schools, malls / shops, parks, neighborhoods and cities that are liveable, productive, healthy, collaborative, and with a cultural identity.

Research so far has mostly employed traditional metrics, such as questionnaires and observations, with some but limited success. This is because traditional methods are based on introspection (i.e. what the person thinks she likes) memory (how did I feel when I walked under the sun?) and are, by definition, subjective.

We suggest employing the new cognitive neuroscience tools (heart rate, physiology, brain imaging, virtual reality, wearables, thermal comfort; computerised methods; see Methods ) to better understand human psychology and how it interacts with the environment.

In our published research we have discussed some theoretical models explaining how psychological and social factors could affect human behaviour in such spaces. Roberts et al. discusses how we can employ neuroscience to improve these spaces, whereas as Lee et al. disucsses how social attitudes and perceived control could affect the perception of spaces.

Some of our recent findings has shown that the usually neglected corridors and transitional spaces are equally and sometimes more important than the actual office space for the comfort and well-being of occupants.

Another study has quantitatively demonstrated how improving the perceived Indoor Environmental Quality (air, temperature, light, noise) can be associated with lower stress and lower sick building syndrome symptoms – both costing millions of dollars to companies.

We also have shown that cubicles can be beneficial if the task requires perseverance and concentration, resulting in significant improvement in committed effort.

On a more focused set of studies we examined what people believe about underground offices. We found that effective responses are independent of claustrophobia, thus suggesting that being enclosed is not the only driving force of potential negative responses to underground spaces. On a positive note, UG spaces were associated with calmness. The only available standardized questionnaire measuring responses towards underground spaces  is published here.

We have developed an Indoor Spaces Lab (ISL – see below) where we study how human behave in indoor / windowless environments.

These are some of our results clearly demonstrating how the built environment affects human psychology and productivity. See here for more research.

(If you are interested in how Neuroscience interacts with Urban Life and Cities, do consider following or joining the Asian Society for Architecture and Psychology – ASAP @AsianAsap; see also https://architecturalpsychology.org/)