My 2005 post, Neuroarchitecture Next Buzzword, was more premature than prescient. In the ensuing years, the idea that neuroscience had anything to offer architects received little public attention. Now, however, the field is again in the public eye.
Emily Anthes of Scientific American Mind has written an excellent survey of recent research in the field, How Room Designs Affect Your Work and Mood. Among the findings detailed by Anthes:
High Ceilings Boost Creativity
As I described in Send in the NeuroArchitect – Two Feet and The Brain, higher ceilings produce more creative thinkers:
In 2007 Joan Meyers-Levy, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, reported that the height of a room’s ceiling affects how people think. She randomly assigned 100 people to a room with either an eight- or 10-foot ceiling and asked participants to group sports from a 10-item list into categories of their own choice. The people who completed the task in the room with taller ceilings came up with more abstract categories, such as “challenging” sports or sports they would like to play, than did those in rooms with shorter ceilings… “Ceiling height affects the way you process information,” Meyers-Levy says. “You’re focusing on the specific details in the lower-ceiling condition.”
Research shows that more green space and natural views help concentration:
Such findings may be the result of a restorative effect on the mind of gazing on natural scenes, according to an idea developed by psychologists Stephen Kaplan and Rachel Kaplan, both at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. By this theory, the tasks of the modern world can engender mental fatigue, whereas looking out at a natural setting is relatively effortless and can give the mind a much needed rest. “A number of studies have shown that when people look at nature views, whether they’re real or projected on a screen, their ability to focus improves,” Stephen Kaplan says.
The “biophilia hypothesis” suggests that humans are predisposed to function better in green spaces. (See also Another Kind of Green Marketing.)
Another interesting finding is that items with sharp angles are preferred less by subjects and actually stimulate a mild fear reaction in the brain:
[Neuroscientist Moshe Bar] provided some support for this theory in a 2007 study in which subjects again viewed a series of neutral objects—this time while their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The neuroscientist found that the amygdala, which is involved in fear processing and emotional arousal, was more active when people were looking at objects with sharp angles. “The underpinnings are really deep in our brain,” Bar explains. “Very basic visual properties convey to us some higher-level information such as ‘Red alert!’ or ‘Relax, it’s all smooth; there’s no threat in the area.’ ”
Perhaps we are at the point where neuroarchitecture will get more respect. One indication of growing respect is that the field now has a professional society – check out the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture.