innate desire to seek out nature and other forms of life.
Indeed, research supports the idea that exposure to nature is
psychologically restorative. Access to
nature has been shown to lower stress and
anger, improve cognitive functioning and
mood, and even speed recovery from surgery.
For instance, Marc G. Berman, PhD, at the University of
Michigan, and colleagues found that people who took a walk
in a park did better on tests of memory and attention than
did people who took a city stroll. The study also found that
people who viewed photos of nature scored higher on attention
tests than those who looked at pictures of urban scenes
(Psychological Science, 2008). And a study by researchers at the
Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Cornell University
found that people were less likely to become fatigued during
work that demanded attention if there were plants in the room
(Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2011).
Despite such evidence, the natural element has tended to
get lost in the design process. The good news, Hasbach says,
is that recent concerns about climate change and ecological
sustainability are helping to focus our attention on the
importance of human-nature interactions.
Hasbach thinks of natural design along a continuum. For
Of course, green is no longer just a color.
example, on one end of the spectrum, a person may have access
to a wild mountain trail. A more domesticated version of that
experience may be a city park or bike path. At the opposite end
of the spectrum is a treadmill in a windowless
room. We can’t always have the mountain trail,
but we can manage the design process. “How
can we design something that moves a bit to
the wilder side of the continuum?” she asks.
In this era of climate change and dwindling
natural resources, sustainability has become
both a buzzword and a guiding principle
of design. In the wake of Superstorm
Sandy, which devastated many East Coast
communities in October 2012, mayors and
planners are thinking more seriously about
how to make cities more resilient in the face
of climate change, says Ballard. There, too,
psychology can and should inform the process.
City planners can design public transportation
systems with the goal of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, for example — but without
an understanding of how people use those
options, their efforts may fall flat.
As we implement smart energy
technologies, Veitch says, we must be
cognizant of how they affect human behavior
and well-being. She points to the development
of commercial lighting systems. Before the
1990s, fluorescent lighting systems cycled
on and off at a frequency that, while not
consciously detectable to humans, led to
disrupted eye movements and headaches,
Veitch and others found. Fortunately, newer
systems are both more energy efficient and friendlier to human
health. However, says Veitch, the new light-emitting diode (LED)
systems gaining in popularity can flicker similarly to the old
fluorescents. She’s now working on recommendations to guide
manufacturers to create LED systems that don’t cause problems
for employee health (IEEE Standards Working Group, 2010).
“In the industrialized world, people spend over 90 percent
of their time in buildings,” Veitch says. “Conditions in these
buildings will have many effects on us, and the cost to society
(and individuals) of adverse effects is far greater than the cost of
the building or its energy use.”
Psychologists are also working with designers to create
public buildings that promote sustainable choices, says J. Aaron
Hipp, PhD, a social ecologist at Washington University in St.
Louis. If a person is accustomed to composting and recycling at
work, he’s more likely to keep up the habit in his own house. If a
person’s workplace provides showers and bike racks, she’s more
Designing for human nature can
encompass everything from the shape
of a table to the layout of entire cities.
And those designs may influence
behavior in surprising ways. Consider
Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the nucleus
of the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
“It works out to be a good place for
people to gather to express their views
because of the shape of the square and
the way streets run into it.”
APA Div. 34 (Society for Environmental, Population and