Bryant Park, an enclave once known for drugs and crime, is an example of how environment can be altered to improve psychological and physiological states. While scholars have been studying the psychological aspects of environmental design since the 1970s, environmental neuroscience is a small, but growing, area of research, a field concerned with the
way physical environments interact with the brain and behavior, says Justin Hollander , Ph.D., FAICP. Hollander studies how
A fter years of law suits surrounding the fate of a decaying elevated railroad trestle in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, the High Line was renovated into a public park in 2008 and helped transform a neighborhood. Growing evidence suggests that such projects increase happiness, lead to positive social interaction, and decrease mental distresses.
cities and regions manage physical change, along with the cognitive, health, and social dimensions of community well-being. As professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, he and his colleagues convened the First International Conference on Urban Experience and Design last spring, marking a first for researchers, scholars, architects,
Marc G. Berman , Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and principal investigator in
planners, and designers to come together under this umbrella of science to discuss new ways of assessing urban spaces. It’s no surprise that living near trees and greenspace is more beneficial to health than living near the grit and congestion of a city, but the extent it plays—especially on attention and memory—is the focus of research by
its Environmental Neuroscience Lab. Berman’s lab has found that if you had ten or more trees per city block , it positively impacts people’s perception by one percent. Researchers have also found a positive association between greenspace around schools and cognitive development in children. The psychological well-being of a population can be associated, in part, with its proximity to greenspace in both urban and rural settings, according to Berman’s 2019 study in Science Advances . The benefits from interactions with nature—from potted plants and gardens, to public greenspace and wilderness—include increased happiness, positive social interactions, improved manageability of life tasks, and decreases in mental distress. “Cities are centers of prosperity, employment opportunities, access to education, and cultural advancement, all aspects of life that may promote mental health,” he says. “However, they can also be associated with decreased access to nature, especially for individuals living within economically deprived urban areas.”
P art of Berman’s study asked participants to rate images of environmental scenes so that the researchers could identify the basic visual cues for what is considered a disorderly environment.
38 DANA FOUNDATION CEREBRUM | Winter 2021
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