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Neuro-architecture to promote well-being | MAB 2020 Symposium

JULY 1, 2021
16:30 – 18:00 (CEST)

Neuro-architecture transmits knowledge and technologies from the field of neuroscience into the professions of spatial design, aimed to get better-informed design solutions to promote human and non-human well-being in our public spaces. We kick off with the key findings of our 2-year research project Sensing Streetscapes, followed by a roundtable exploration with the global pioneers from Neuro-architecture. What is the state of affairs and what is the potential of this approach to push improved sustainable well-being, especially in the newly built high-density urban settings?

Moderators:

Frank Suurenbroek - Professor of Spatial Urban Transformation at the Faculty of Technology at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
Gideon Spanjar - Senior Researcher and projectleader at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. Gideon is also a professor of Innovation & Urban Green Spaces at Aeres University of Applied Sciences and an associate fellow at the Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management.

Invited Guests:

Jordan Lacey -Australian Research Council fellow and senior lecturer across RMIT University’s School of Design and School of Art. He specialises in artistic research and soundscape design

Justin Hollander - PhD, FAICP is a Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. Among others, he co-authored the groundbreaking study Cognitive Architecture (2015)

Ann Sussman - trained architect, Boston Architectural College (BAC), co-author of the groundbreaking study Cognitive Architecture (2015) and co-founder of TheHapi.org.

Davide Ruzzon - professor of architecture at the University of Venice (IUAV), co-founder of the master Neuroscience Applied to Architectural Design and member of the Academy of Neuro-Architecture, actively involved in the Architecture Biennale in Venice. Davide also works as an architect at Lombardini22 in Milan.

Stefano Andreani - Lecturer in Architecture and a Research Associate at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University

Michael A. Arbib - University Professor Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, Biomedical Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Psychology at the University of Southern California.

Elnaz Ghazi -  actively working as professor (Docente a Contratto) at Master of Neuroesthetics in department of Medicine and Surgery ( Medical Systems) at Tor Vergata University of Rome in Italy.

Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo - President and founder of NeuroLandscape. She has a Ph.D. in Landscape Architecture and Urban Ecology from the University of Porto (Portugal) and is a researcher at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore.

Organizers

Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
Chair of Spatial Urban Transformation
Research project Sensing Streetscapes

This symposium was a part of  MEDIA ARCHITECTURE BIENNALE 2020

JUNE 24TH · 29TH: WORKSHOPS
JUNE 30TH · JULY 2ND: ONLINE CONFERENCE
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Simply Green is Simply not Enough – a Prelude to Mentally Healthy Cities

The fast-paced urbanization and disconnection of people from nature and the current series of lockdowns, contribute to an increasing burden of mental health disease in cities. Researchers have estimated that it is 39% more likely to develop depression when living in urbanized areas as compared to rural regions [source]. Other mental illnesses and neurodegenerative disorders such as anxiety, substance abuse, and dementia are also taking a large toll on the lives of urban dwellers.

The environmental determinants of this phenomenon are most obviously the noise, pollution, and abundance of distracting elements in the space, which keep attention at the mode of alertness. In addition to these factors, there are certain visual constraints and limited contact with nature, which contribute a substantial psychological burden to those living in urbanized spaces.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about the specific mechanisms of why this happens and, more importantly, how to design our cities to not only prevent mental illness but also improve our wellbeing. Several research teams around the world, including our scientists and landscape architects at NeuroLandscape, have been investigating the influence of exposure to different living environments on brain activity.

From multiple neuroscience experiments and cross-sectional analyses, it seems that the quantity of green cover in the city is not enough to trigger a beneficial mental health response. The proximity and accessibility of green spaces in relation to residency is a very important start point to mitigate the mental health decline but does not consistently determine better mental health outcomes. Like in many other aspects of life quality outperforms quantity.

In the era of the color green, urban planners, landscape architects and city managers, lend me your ears! —Do not green cities mindlessly.

There are certain types and components of urban green spaces which can reduce stress levels, restore our attention, regulate emotions, bring back positive motivation, and improve cognitive functioning by just passively experiencing them [our library on that topic]. They include open and panoramic landscape compositions, which allow far-away views into the landscape, but also enclosed pocket gardens inviting for calm relaxation and solitary contemplation. The visibility of natural asymmetry, undulating landforms and a diversified skyline also count towards that restorative effect. Among many other salutogenic landscape design strategies, seasonally changing, lush vegetation, and the presence of strong symbolic features, such as water, play an important role too.

In the endeavor to create liveable cities we have been through several stages, starting with the consideration of functionality and logistics, which was followed by improvements to sanitation, safety, equity, greening and sustainability, and finally led up to a focus on the mental health. The research to support this latest stage is ongoing. However, it is becoming clear that mentally healthy cities rely on the quality rather than quantity of green and natural elements.

With that in mind, nature is not to be visited (like visiting a gallery or animal park) but rather, a backdrop to our daily events and activities. For this vision to be feasible and effective, evidence-based landscape design is indispensable.

Conscious Cities Festival

Healthy Cities – Cities for Humans, Conscious Warsaw 2020 (VIDEO)

A speech presented during the "Conscious Warsaw - Sensing our City" webinar organized by the Center for Conscious Design, which took place on October 22, 2020, in Polish (English subtitles available in this video!).

Dr. Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo presented a new concept of designing mentally healthy cities based on contact with salutogenic natural landscapes (Contemplative Landscapes) and introduced the scientific background and activities of her NGO.

The entire webinar is available on https://theccd.org/domain/conscious-warsaw/

Centre for Conscious Design: www.theccd.org

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Affordable Technologies for Evidence Based Studies and Mind Monitoring

The built environment and mental health of the residents within the city are extremely interconnected. Daily exposures are known to influence psychological processes, having both known and unknown consequences. The study of Gary W. Evans from 2003 points out that personal control, social support and restoration from stress and fatigue in the physical environment directly impacts mental health. He also points out the need for evidence-based studies and methods. “Mind Monitoring” is a method to consider in such studies, as this makes bringing out evidence easier. 

Unfortunately, our knowledge of the relation between mind and physical environment, especially in developing countries, is very little. Technology to conduct cross-sectional scientific studies is one of the biggest impedances. 

A lot of devices are making our day to day lives easier, productive and entertaining in innumerous ways. But these are the tools that have the potential to be used in mind monitoring. They make research on environmental impacts on minds more affordable. 

EEG a Mind Monitoring method

EEG stands for electroencephalogram. It is a test to find out and monitor the electrical activity of the brain using various noninvasive electrodes placed across the scalp. EEG electrodes pick up the electrical activity in the user’s brain. And then the collected signals are amplified and digitized and sent to a computer or mobile device for storage and data processing. Recently, these tests have been made affordable with new designs and exploring ways to use smartphones.

Some recent EEG devices

  • NeuroSky launched quite a number of second-generation products, such as MindWave, MindWave Mobile, MindWave Mobile Plus and MindWave Mobile 2. Mindwave Mobile 2 is the most affordable brainwave reading EEG headset. These devices are used in games, education, wellness, research and development.
  • Emotiv products achieved better performance and wider scalp coverage by using a higher number of channels and wet electrodes. This caused Emotiv products to have a more complicated set-up and higher price tag. Some Emotiv products are Insight, EPOC X, MN8 etc. They can provide easy-to-understand feedback on the level of stress and distraction to improve workplace wellness, safety and productivity.
  • Muse is a meditation facilitating device that comes along with a mobile application. Muse 2, Muse S are available having a lot of features. Provides real-time feedback on user’s brain activity, heart rate, breathing and body movements
  • Some other devices, such as: MyndPlay MyndBand, Aurora Dreamband, FocusBand, Neeuro SenzeBand work with various mind monitoring activities. For example: empowering users to train their brains to improve attention, meditation skills, for better sleep, dream clarity etc.

Price comparison

Company Product Release Year Price (USD)
NeuroSky MindWave Mobile 2  2018 199.00
Emotiv INSIGHT 2015 299.00
EPOC X 2020 849.00
MN8 Still in production 
interaXon Muse 2014 199.00
Muse 2 2016 249.00
Muse S 2019 349.00
OpenBCI OpenBCI 2014 349.00 (Ultracortex Mark IV)

399.00 (Electrode Cap)

MyndPlay  Myndband 2014 299.00
Aurora DreamBand 2015 299.00
FocusBand FocusBand 2016 600.00
Neeuro SenzeBand 2016 299.00

The researchers and practitioners of developing countries like Bangladesh or Colombia are not much aware of these EEG solutions. Most of the time the price range would still be unaffordable. But the products provided by NeuroSky,  interaXon and MyndPlay are comparatively less costly and can be affordable for the research and mental health practitioners in Bangladesh.

Summing up, affordable technologies for mind monitoring are now rising.  And a displayable number of multidisciplinary collaborative research and experiments in this sector will increase their potential to a great extent!

Authors: Muntaka Ibnath, Nazwa Tahsin

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Landscape & Brain – neuroscience data collection outdoors (VIDEO)

Brain scans outdoors: how to collect reliable EEG and FNIRS data in-situ?

Rigorous neuroscience research would question collecting the neuroscience data outdoors, due to too many confounding factors occurring and researchers not being able to control them all. In the sensory exposure research, each participant has to be exposed to the same set of stimuli, which is very difficult if not impossible in an outdoor setting.  For example, small environmental nuances such as certain type of cloud covering the sun would change the amount of light reaching the eye of the participant , which can dramatically change the alpha power produced by the brain.

For this sake we should collect the exposure data in a controlled-lab environment, controlling for each factor such as brightness, temperature, etc. Also, we should use the same set of stimuli, that can be recorded in a form of photo, video or more immersive - VR.

However, environmental researchers, landscape architects and ecologists will all agree that the exposure to nature in the lab has nothing to do with the one outdoors in a real setting. Lab-based experiment lacks the so-called "ecological validity" - meaning it cannot be fully compared with the real experience. As it is essential to advance the knowledge in the area of real exposure to nature as opposed to natural images, we took a challenge to collect a reliable data outdoors, while controlling for most important environmental factors (temperature, humidity, brightness and noise), and making sure for each participant the experience is as similar as possible.

We recorded the video of in-situ data collection from the "Effects of Landscapes on the Brain" project in Singapore, where we show how the EEG and fNIRS data can be collected outside. We have published the preliminary findings from that research in a journal.

Let us know if you have comments or questions about that procedure, also share and support pushing this discipline forward!

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Designing & Using School Grounds to Support Mental Health (Video Available!)

The video from the webinar is already available on! The webinar organized by the International School Grounds Alliance and the Children &Nature Network on how school grounds can be designed and used to support took place on June 23rd 2020, and featured research and design insights on how to design mentally healthy outdoor spaces for children.

Everyone interested in design for children will find a lot of inspiration in this video, in other words it's a must-see! We are very proud and grateful that NeuroLandscape could be a part of this insightful panel!

The program featured:

  1. an introduction to the ISGA activity by Kerry Logan;
  2. showcasing international best-practice examples, by Kathrin Schmiele;
  3. research and design lessons from neuroscience by Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo;
  4. strategies for the design of schoolyards for students Claire Latané.

Related post

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Designing School Grounds to Support Children’s Mental Health: Examples from Around the World

24th June 2020
9:00 AM Singapore Standard Time.

Daily contact with nature is vital for supporting the mental health and well-being of children and young people. Join the International School Grounds Alliance and the Children & Nature Network for this webinar that will focus on how school grounds can be designed and used to support mental health.

The content will cover an introduction by Jaime Zaplatosch; and the work of ISGA by Kerry Logan; I will emphasize the importance of the topic and present a video showcasing international best-practice examples, followed by a presentation on the lessons from the neuroscience research by NeuroLandscape President Dr. Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo , finalized by a presentation on design strategies that reduce stress and anxiety and boost mental health and community by Claire Latané.

At the end we will have a Q&A session and an exciting DRAW together exercise!

For those who cannot attend at this time, the webinar will be recorded and share through the NeuroLandscape Youtube Channel.

Register for free here!
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Our Brain On Perspectives by IMAGINE CITIES | 23rd June 2020

23 June,  6PM MST

In Yuval Harari’s book Home Deus, he states that the greatest leaps in human progress were not simply the result of individual acts. Instead, the greatest leaps have been the result of our ability as a species to cooperate in large numbers.

Join us for an insightful conversation about how breakthroughs in neuroscience have led us to better understand how the brain functions when we’re faced with perspectives that are different from our own. By understanding how our brain works we can better understand each other, improve our ability to work together, and more effectively solve humanity’s most pressing urban challenges.

Special Guests

Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo is the Founder & President of NeuroLandscape, a non-profit dedicated to improving mental health and wealth-being through green space design. With a Ph.D. from the University of Porto in Landscape Architecture and Urban Ecology, alongside experience developing numerous research projects worldwide, Agnieszka possesses a unique understanding of how urban design impacts the human brain.

Maria Escobar-Bordyn is the Vice President of Creating WE, an organization that coaches CEO's on the importance of conversations in shaping corporate culture and achieving goals. After spending her early career on HR teams in two Fortune 100 companies, Maria spent 12 years at a global human performance consulting firm where she coached hundreds of hundreds of executives. She has a degree in Social Ecology with a concentration in human behaviour from the University of California, Irvine.

Mitchell Reardon is the Lead for Urban Planning, Design & Experiments at Happy City. Happy City is an interdisciplinary urban planning and design consultancy that uses the science of wellbeing to create healthier, happier and more inclusive communities. Mitchell is also the co-founder of Metropolitan Collective, a group of tactical urbanists who transform unloved and overlooked spaces. He received his Masters of Science in Urban and Regional Planning at Stockholm University and his insights have been heard on CBC News, StarMetro, CBC Radio and more.

Link to registration page

Environmental Ambassadors

Neuromyths in education

If you’ve ever played the Chinese whispers game, you know it that the original message gets distorted by the time it reaches the final player with often hilarious effects. However, when it comes to research and neuroscience, the result of passing on information through various persons may not be as funny and innocent as an all-time-favourite game. Neuromyths are already gaining their way into different disciplines such as education and unfortunately doing quite well among teachers, as recent research suggests.

Over a decade ago, the OECD published a report about the importance of breakthroughs in brain science informing other disciplines, such as education (OECD 2002). The report also identified the danger of spread of misbeliefs about neuroscience and its relevance in education, which they called ‘neuromyths’ and defined as “a misconception generated by a misunderstanding, a misreading, or a misquoting of facts scientifically established (by brain research) to make a case for use of brain research in education and other contexts”. Since then, international studies have confirmed that many teachers actually believe in these neuromyths and suggested that a red flag is to be raised to stop this trend.

In a series of studies that included several European countries (UK, Holland and Spain) teachers were asked about their knowledge of the brain, their preferred sources of neuro knowledge and tried to identify the most common neuromyths. (Articles to both studies reporting results are open access – see Reference list where you'll also find the Latin American part of this study). The results showed that teachers actually care a whole lot about their practice as between 95% and 98% of teachers were interested in the brain and its role on learning and considered scientific knowledge about the brain very important for their teaching practice. However, only 7% stated they read primary scientific journals, as the rest read popular magazines about science or education or used internet pseudoscientific sources (Ferrero et al. 2016). Interestingly, those that read the actual scientific journals were in fact those which later identified best neuromyths amongst other neuro facts. However, having read educational magazines actually increased the belief in neuromyths. These findings suggest that teachers who are enthusiastic about the possible application of neuroscience findings in the classroom find it difficult to distinguish pseudoscience from scientific facts.

Overall, teachers agreed with 49% of the statements promoting myths indicating that they believed them to be true in the UK/Holland study, and from a total of 12 neuromyths presented, five were believed by more than 50% of the educators in the Spanish sample. The most prevalent neuromyths were

  1.  “Environments that are rich in stimulus improve the brains of pre-school children.”
  2. “Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style.”, and
  3. “Exercises that rehearse coordination of motor-perception skills can improve literacy skills”.

In contrast, the most successfully identified neuromyths (marked as ‘false’ by the teachers) were

  1. “Children must acquire their native language before a second language is learned.”
  2.  “Learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education.”, and
  3. “If students do not drink sufficient amounts of water their brains shrink.” (Ferrero et al. 2016).

The fact that teachers who are most interested in brain research are also more susceptible to neuromyths is rather troublesome, since it may misguide their educational practice. The difficulty in differentiating between correct and incorrect information is a clash between the eagerness to implement their knowledge about the brain in educational practice and a lack of expertise in neuroscience. Experiments have shown that people with some neuroscientific knowledge (having done a short neuroscience course) were fooled by neuroscientific explanations in the same way as laypeople. Only neuroscience experts (having a degree in cognitive neuroscience or related areas) were able to correctly identify when the neuroscientific explanations were irrelevant to the actual core of the findings. Thus, the level of knowledge of the teachers in the aforementioned studies was not sufficient to protect them against the general credibility of neuroscience findings. “When teachers are eager to implement neuroscientific findings, but lack expertise in neuroscience and seek quick and easy solutions, they may fail to recognize misconceptions” (Weisberg 2007 in Dekker et al. 2012.).

Another issue worth mentioning is the commercial value of buzz-terms that pertain to neuroscience. The UK sample of teachers, for instance, showed stronger belief in some myths probably due to the proliferation of commercialised education ‘brain-based’ programmes. Those methods are sold under the vague idea of enhancing education thanks to neuroscience, such as Brain Gym or the VAK approach (visual, auditive or kinesthetic learning styles), but lack robust, scientific backing. Spain is seeing similar trend of new brain science programmes being introduced in schools (albeit more slowly).

Let us not forget, however, that teachers are not the only ones who can be easily fooled. Research has shown that people are actually more likely to believe research findings when they are accompanied by brain images (like this image below) and neuroscience explanations, regardless of their scientific correctness (Weisberg et al., 2007in Dekker et al.2012). “Weisberg found that the public’s perception of a poor explanation became more positive when neuroscience was included, even though the neuroscience was irrelevant. This may lead to misjudgements of scientific evidence.”

The teachers in the studies mentioned here were genuinely interested in brain science, hoping it would inform their teaching practice in the best way possible. However, they lacked perhaps in the depth and breadth of actual neuroscientific knowledge to be able to (1) understand how brain really works and what that means for their pedagogical practice, and (2) to identify facts from myths when coming across neuroscientific news. As per usual, good intentions are not enough to protect oneself from being fooled by the shiny promises of neuroscience when presented with incomplete, altered, rephrased findings that only then can be translated into actionable steps and applications in education and other fields.

What can be done, then? The researchers suggest various solutions to address these findings, such as “enhancing links between research and educational practice, where some experts have started elaborating papers to properly inform laypeople about some of the main findings of neuroscience applied to education” (Ferrer et al. 2016). Teacher training is also mentioned as the place where trainee teachers can learn the skills to critically identify relevant neuroscientific information in their practice. Finally, non-commercial in-service courses can address the common myths for those who are already applying their knowledge in the classroom.

As for other non-experts (including yours truly) let us not be fooled by the neuro jargon and brain scan images, but rather ‘consume responsibly’ the latest neuroscientific news. Ultimately, a decent dose of critical scepticism should protect us from the spread of neuromyths.

REFERENCES:

Carreira, S. (2018) ‘Eso que crees de la neuroeducación es mentira, La Voz de Galicia,  3.12.201, available: https://www.lavozdegalicia.es/noticia/educacion/2018/11/21/neuromito/00031542825201509389918.htm

Dekker, S., Lee, N. C., Howard-Jones, P., and Jolles, J. (2012) Neuromyths in education: prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology, 3:429. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00429

Ferrero, M., Garaizar, P., and Vadillo, M.A. (2016) Neuromyths in Education: Prevalence among Spanish Teachers and an Exploration of Cross-Cultural Variation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10: 496. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00496

Gleichgerrcht, E., Luttges, B. L., Salvarezza, F., and Campos, A. L. (2015). Educational neuromyths among teachers in Latin America. Mind Brain Education, 9, 170–178. doi: 10.1111/mbe.12086

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2002) Understanding the Brain: Towards a New Learning Science. Paris: OECD.

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Healthy Landscape Workshop, NTU, Taipei, Taiwan

It was a delightful and very interesting stay in Taipei, Taiwan.  We went to visit “Healthy Landscapes x Healthy People Lab” ran by Prof Chun-Yen Chan, after he invited us during the IFLA conference in Singapore (networking works wonders!).  Me and Nicolas were happy to join the 2 hour sharing session and the workshop organized at the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture of the National Taiwan University.

    

We got to know all students and researchers involved in the Healthy Landscape x Healthy People Lab, to find out, that their research is so much connected to what we are doing or willing to do at NeuroLandscape.  The range of topics was impressive: from investigating of the soundscape to creative design process, using very rigorous methods including fMRI scans, biofeedback instruments among others.

Finally the talk of Professor Chang, who is clearly the heart and good spirit of his team, brought us through key findings and ongoing research in the area. It was great to share our mission, activities and scientific approach with like-minded people and find the world’s hot-spot for research on landscape design and health.

We would like to share more findings and activities from Prof Chang’s lab, and find ways to collaborate in the future. Thank you so much for having us at NTU!