For this festive season, wishing you all a Healthy and Happy Holidays!!! May this be the time to mindfully enjoy the laughter and company of our loved ones, the nutritious festive meals and let’s not forget the wonderful benefits of long walks in the winter wonderland.
Let’s all make a great start to the New Year 2018, full of success and happiness!
If you have ever wondered why movie characters always seem to be entrenched in deep thought while looking out far into the distance, this post is for you as it explains the science behind this magic of long-distance views.
It all comes down to a category of contemplative features of landscapes we call ‘Layers of Landscape’. It includes features such as the depth of view, which is connected directly to the visibility of three planes and the comfort of long-distance views. As one might expect, it is divided into three distance zones, foreground, middleground and background. This is demonstrated on the photograph of Buchanan Street in Glasgow, Scotland.
In contemplative landscapes, long-distance views are vital as they account for about 70% of the ‘weight’ of the overall score of a landscape in comparison to other categories. According to many authors, being able to see far away is a feature that significantly improves the quality of landscape through the visitor’s perception capability. Long-distance views stimulate in the observer a sense of personal freedom, mental pleasure, stress reduction, an improvement of the quality of life in the city (Skalski, 2005; Tuan, 1974).
The importance of long distance-views has also been confirmed in environmental psychology. Long-distance views are thought to stimulate the away feeling and a reorientation from every-day life (especially life within an urban context), because being away goes beyond simple “getting away from it all”, and means switching between various activities and changing the perspective of viewing things and everyday activities.
The image below presents the City Park of Porto in Portugal; a great example of a park with one of the main functions stated as contemplation, showing just how long-distance views help to achieve this goal. The park provides many panoramic settings with very long distance views (including views reaching the ocean horizon line), and thus a contemplative experience.
A valley-corridor enables long distance panoramic views, Parque da Cidade, Porto, Portugal.
The CLASS software we developed can identify features such as the presence of long-distance views in the images it analyses and score them accordingly. While it is just one of many features of a contemplative space, the incorporation of panoramic views in landscape designs is a good start to increase their chances of fulfilling the function of promoting contemplation and relaxation of the visitors.
In this short review, we hope to have given you a few clues as to the science behind why some landscapes are more therapeutic than others. Our advice? Next time you have a chance, gaze up and into the distance, and enjoy the benefits of contemplating a landscape far into the horizon line.
Based on Olszewska, A. (2016) “Contemplative Values of Urban Parks and Gardens Applying Neuroscience to Landscape Architecture”, PhD thesis, University of Porto, Portugal, with some parts quoted verbatim.
Skalski, J. (2005). “Comfort of long-distance perceiving and a landscape of river valley in towns situated on the plains”, Teka Komisji Architektury, Urbanistyki i Studiów Krajobrazowych, 1.
Yeomans, W. C. (1983), Visual Resource Assessment: A User Guide. BC, Ministry of Environment.
After the first, international, on-line board meeting of NeuroLandscape we hope to transmit this enthusiasm and excitement onto you all with this picture!
As this season of joy is approaching, what a better way to start it than meeting with like-minded, enthusiastic and motivated people from around the world. We are looking forward to the new challenges and projects for the coming future and of course the engagement with our audience here on social media platforms.
Watch this space for more interesting news from our team coming to you regularly!
Taking a sprouting idea through a process of producing a final prototype is both exciting and tense. Looking for help seems like a good idea and it turns out the help may be around the corner when we know where to look for it. Our organization took advantage of a less-known, a sort of a “cousin” of the famous Erasmus exchange programme, called Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs.
During a six-month-long exchange, a young programmer from Lithuania, Lukas Navickas joined our team on a project which focused on developing the Automated Scoring system and the Image Classification of Contemplative Landscapes. The interdisciplinary team worked on an algorithm that incorporates the newest image classification methods and worldwide expert responses on the landscape scenes, creating a prototype of the CLASS software.
Following the official website, “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs is a cross-border exchange programme which gives new or aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to learn from experienced entrepreneurs running small businesses in another country.” Similarly, it is beneficial for the host company too as the knowledge-transfer is a two-way street.
For the young entrepreneur, it is firstly a great opportunity to revise their venture proposal, its feasibility and to write a detailed business plan. Secondly, it gives them a chance to learn from more experienced people, ask questions on-site, observe and acquire new skills. And finally, the programme takes the young entrepreneur to another country, which in itself is one of the best learning opportunities one can get!
For the host enterprise, participation opens up an opportunity to receive valuable feedback and to contribute to the international community well beyond the day-to-day tasks of running a business. What is important here is the collaborative and peer-like character of the exchange, which differentiates it from other initiatives such as internships.
In our experience, overall the exchange was fruitful for both sides. Thanks to the team work, the prototype of CLASS software was completed successfully and we were able to share the experience with a wider audience through a scientific publication and a participation in a conference (link to article [here]). Also, our young team member, Lukas, was able to gain valuable experience of working in an interdisciplinary, academic environment with a strong focus on research & development as opposed to traditional settings for SMEs in programming.
While in the process of creation of NeuroLandscape and after many considerations, we decided to take another route, departing from a business-like model to an NGO, we can wholeheartedly recommend the EYE programme to anyone with entrepreneurial aspirations.
Is it the fact that medicinal herbs grow there? Or is it full of outdoor elements that improve you health (like a jogging track, or outdoor gym)?
There is quite a mess around the concept of “therapeutical garden” so let’s not try to find one concise definition, but instead let us explain how we see it.
For us, a therapeutic garden is designed to soothe the mind of people that need the most powerful restorative benefits of nature to be transmitted to them, for example patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
Can therapeutical gardens be contemplative? Or course! And this is what brings us closer to what such landscapes can really look like.
Two photos below show landscape views that are the most contemplative and applicable to the design of institutions providing help to patients with Alzheimer, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.
You can read more about what exactly is so special about these designs in our paper “Therapeutic garden design for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.”
NeuroLandscape wholeheartedly embraces a multi-disciplinary approach, so it is quite challenging to establish one discipline which we most represent, one type of a scientific journal to publish in, or one area of conferences to participate in. Believe me when it comes to choosing keywords for our studies or key areas of expertise, it is even more challenging!
Fortunately things are changing and new approaches emerge around the world that look in the same direction as us and welcome multiple methods. One such initiative is this conference. Participation in the conference has made us realize how important the topics of urban health are right now—not so much to academic community, but rather to urban governing bodies and public health entities.
It definitely was a chance to network with experts from around the world on what currently is being done, and can be done in the future, in order to improve and scale up community initiative for urban health.
Despite the great concern for the mental health problems that todays’ cities are challenged with, most scientific methods applied to this issue are almost entirely limited to self-reported surveys and questionnaires. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with these methods, using only this approach can be somewhat limiting, because social and cultural conventions influence how likely someone is to self-report symptoms of mental illness to an interviewer. Moreover, studies often report that depression among the poorest in society is not as severe simply because respondents tend to associate their problems more with their poverty when there are many other factors that may be at play, such as their physical environment [link].
At NeuroLandscape we provide an alternative to the self-reported approach, which is continuously improved upon. Instead of asking people about their mental health, we want to "ask" their brains, giving us a chance to capture the most subtle nuances of their perception that they may not even be aware of...
Our delegate gave a speech on Window View and the Brain Can Floor Level and Amount of Green within the View Have any Effect on Our Well-Being? to present the findings from a recent EEG experiment undertaken within the Biophilic Town Project at NUS Singapore. The presentation was met with great interest, which shows that the traditional methods of self mental-health assessment can already be challenged.
To sum up, it was a great conference, NeuroLandscape has found its people and the box where it fits (or rather a corridor connecting multiple boxes together)! We are very excited and looking forward to more events like this one!
Besides aesthetical preference, the decision to avoid the hyphenated gap between ‘neuro’ and ‘landscape’ is a subtle nod to the philosophy of our organization. Inclusion of the hyphen could suggest that the activities of the brain and the surrounding landscape need to be forcefully brought together, whereas the mind and its physical environment are in constant interaction, whether the individual is actively aware of this fact or not. Although the hyphen could also be viewed, and rightfully so, as a bridge between two distinct disciplines (neuroscience and landscape design), we prefer to focus on the holistic nature of the subject of our research.
Recent studies by our team and countless others continue to confirm and explore how much impact the physical environment has on our mental cognition, which, in turn, greatly influences our health and wellbeing. Our neural activity and the surrounding environment would rather have to be forcefully separated than forcefully brought together. Although neuroscience and landscape design have been kept separate as academic disciplines, it would be difficult to suggest that their primary subjects of study, the brain and the landscape, should be divided and kept at a distance from each other.
Therefore, we have removed the hyphen to clearly show how close and inextricably linked the concepts of ‘neuro’ and ‘landscape’ are in the real world. We will continue to strive to bridge the gap between seemingly unrelated disciplines through formal research while increasing the public’s understanding and engagement on this issue for the benefit of everyone’s mental health and wellbeing. To achieve these ends, our blending of neuroscience and landscape design will benefit from the tools developed in the computer sciences, specifically in the field of artificial intelligence. Computer-generated neural networks will help us better understand how the brain reacts to the environment and will be used to quickly analyze and advise on the quality of a landscape design in terms of its positive impact on our mental health.
Through the synergy of these three disciplines, we seek to overcome the inherent weaknesses of a single-minded expertise that fails to see the forest for the trees. Experts from each discipline on our team will contribute and communicate their own necessarily-biased perspective on the research. This interdisciplinary approach will lead, and has already led, to insights and discoveries that simply would not be possible if each person remained tucked away in their own office or lab. NeuroLandscape strives not to see the world in black and white, but rather intends to harness the kaleidoscope of colors that is interdisciplinary research. Scientific breakthroughs and a deeper understanding of the world around us are created through the nuanced blending of the complete palette of colors at our disposal. This ideal is at the heart of NeuroLandscape and we hope to do our small part to contribute to the betterment of the places where we live.
Almost three years have passed since this interview about the research behind NeuroLandscape. How exciting to see how far we’ve come since then! Visit our blog to read more about the motivation for our project:
One of the main goals of NEUROLANDSCAPE is to grow the body of knowledge and awareness about the healing and restorative effect of being immersed in natural environments, and effects of the built elements on our brain. We are continuously running laboratory and on-site experiments that bring us closer to understanding just how the human brain responds to different environmental stimuli, especially those, that we can experience in cities. The state of the art in the area of the evidence-based landscape design is still in its infancy, existing evidence are based on relatively small sample sizes and modest experimental techniques.
Together with our supporters and donors, we want to change this status quo through providing the rigorous experimental design, with reliable number of participants and using the most recent medical equipment. We are open to adjusting the experimental design for exact needs of the interested parties, for example engaging participants diagnosed with a specific disorder, in a specific age group, or measuring the effect of a specific landscape on human brain. We are also interested in long-term studies based on application of non-pharmacological treatments.
We are constantly growing our lab inventory with the neuroscience equipment as well as the stimulation display equipment. We have been working with:
Enobio, by Neuroelectrocs
eeggo sport, by ANT
NIRSport (LLC NIRx Medical Technologies)
3D camcorder (TR80 by Sony)
3D Projector, and displaying screen
3D shutter glasses system (by Nvidia)
What we offer We offer a complex approach to the research problems. Besides the knowledge about the possible effects of the landscape itself, we offer publishing the outcomes of an experiment in a form of a case-study in a peer-reviewed journal, in a form of a case study. Also, additional publication possibilities may be discussed and considered. All our research attempts are strictly subject to ethical evaluation, and run according to experimental protocols.
The procedure If you have an idea for a study using the neuroscience solutions, please contact us by filling the form below. As we are a non-profit organization linked with academia, we first need to review the funding and grant possibilities. All ideas and funding opportunities will be greatly appreciated in the process.