Previous research has demonstrated the positive associations between outdoor nature contact and stress reduction. However, similar effects of incorporating natural elements into indoor environment (i.e. biophilic design) have been less well studied. We hypothesize that exposure to biophilic indoor environments help people recover from stress and anxiety and those effects differ among different types of biophilic elements. To test these hypotheses, we conducted a between-subjects experiment with 100 participants using virtual reality (VR). Participants were randomly assigned to experience one of four virtual offices (i.e. one non-biophilic base office and three similar offices enhanced with different biophilic design elements) after stressor tasks. Their physiological indicators of stress reaction, including heart rate variability, heart rate, skin conductance level and blood pressure, were measured by bio-monitoring sensors. Their anxiety level was measured by using State-Trait Anxiety Inventory test (short version). We found that participants in biophilic indoor environments had consistently better recovery responses after stressor compare to those in the non-biophilic environment, in terms of reduction on stress and anxiety. Effects on physiological responses are immediate after exposure to biophilic environments with the larger impacts in the first four minutes of the 6-minute recovery process. Additionally, these restorative effects differ among three different types of indoor biophilic environments. This research provides evidence that biophilic design elements that impact stress recovery and anxiety. It also demonstrated the potential that virtual reality may be a way to bring nature and its therapeutic benefits to patients in hospitals.
Biophilia hypothesis suggests humans have an innate connection to nature which may affect our health and productivity. Yet we currently live in a world that is rapidly urbanizing with people spending most of their time indoors. We designed a randomized crossover study to let 30 participants experience three versions of biophilic design in simulated open and enclosed office spaces in virtual reality (VR). Throughout the VR session, we measured blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability, and skin conductance level and administered cognitive tests to measure their reaction time and creativity. Compared to the base case, participants in three spaces with biophilic elements had consistently lower level of physiological stress indicators and higher creativity scores. In addition, we captured the variation in the intensity of virtual exposure to biophilic elements by using eye‐tracking technology. These results suggest that biophilic interventions could help reduce stress and improve creativity. Moreover, those effects are related to both the types of biophilic elements and may be different based on the workspace type (open vs enclosed). This research demonstrates that VR‐simulated office spaces are useful in differentiating responses to two configurations and among biophilic elements.
Twitter provides a rich database of spatiotemporal information about users who broadcast their real-time opinions, sentiment, and activities. In this paper, we sought to investigate the holistic influence of land use and time period on public sentiment. A total of 880,937 tweets posted by 26,060 active users were collected across Massachusetts (MA), USA, through 31 November 2012 to 3 June 2013. The IBM Watson Alchemy API (application program interface) was employed to quantify the sentiment scores conveyed by tweets on a large scale. Then we statistically analyzed the sentiment scores across different spaces and times. A multivariate linear mixed-effects model was used to quantify the fixed effects of land use and the time period on the variations in sentiment scores, considering the clustering effect of users. The results exposed clear spatiotemporal patterns of users' sentiment. Higher sentiment scores were mainly observed in the commercial and public areas, during the noon/evening and on weekends. Our findings suggest that social media outputs can be used to better understand the spatial and temporal patterns of public happiness and well-being in cities and regions.
Biophilic design, which incorporates natural elements into the built environment, has received increasing attention in both the design and health fields. But research quantifying physiological and cognitive benefits of indoor biophilic features is sparse. This randomized crossover study examines the physiological and cognitive responses to natural elements in an office building. Twenty-eight participants spent time in an indoor environment featuring biophilic design elements and one without, with the order of the visit randomized. In each visit, they experienced the environment for 5-min in reality and virtually by using virtual reality (VR). Wearable sensors were used to measure blood pressure, galvanic skin response and heart rate. Cognitive tests were administrated after each exposure. The indoor biophilic environment was associated with a decrease in participants' blood pressure. The overall differential effects for participants experiencing an indoor environment with biophilic elements versus none was 8.6 mmHg lower systolic and 3.6 mmHg lower diastolic blood pressure. In addition, their skin conductance decreased 0.18 μS greater than when they experienced the non-biophilic setting. Short-term memory improved by 14%. Participants reported a decrease in negative emotions and an increase in positive emotions after experiencing the biophilic setting. Moreover, our findings indicate that participants experiencing biophilic environment virtually had similar physiological and cognitive responses as when experiencing the actual environment. This gives rise to the possibility of reducing stress and improving cognition by using virtual reality to provide exposures to natural elements in a variety of indoor settings where access to nature may not be possible.
Yueqing’s Healthy Future is a context-based analysis for improving urban health against a background of unprecedented regional population transition in China’s mid-tier cities. This extended case study considers how China’s economic ascendancy, having ignited an epidemiological transition from communicable diseases more prevalent in rural areas toward largely preventable, non-communicable diseases typical of twenty-first century urban lifestyles, can facilitate more sustainable models of future urban development. Yueqing’s Healthy Futurebegins as sustainable infrastructure design within a framework of measurable standards to intentionally redress China’s environmental health crisis and resulting urban health problems. Key determinates for urban livability are amply addressed: urban infrastructure design, the built environment, the incorporation of nature, quality of life, and health and wellness. Prescriptive guidance to optimize urban health and long-term sustainability in the process of urban growth and development accompanies this case study: urban climate change resilience, urban mobility, and strategies for healthier buildings. This assessment includes recommendations by a joint research team from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Although these proposals reflect actual climatic, ecological, and environmental policy conditions of Yueqing, China and thus are tailored to improve that city’s sustainability profile, the recommendations may inform urban projects elsewhere with similar urban infrastructure and ecological conditions already in place.
Joseph G. Allen, Ari Bernstein, Xiaodong Cao, Erika S. Eitland, Skye Flanigan, Maia Gokhale, Julie M. Goodman, Skylar Klager, Lacey Klingensmith, Jose Guillermo Cedeno Laurent, Steven W. Lockley, Piers MacNaughton, Sepideh Pakpour, John D. Spengler, Jose Vallarino, Augusta Williams, Anna Young, and Jie Yin. 2017. The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building. Boston: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Publisher's Version