NeuroLandscape featured in BBC "My Perfect City" Series episode which was released on: 30 Dec 2020
New episode of the BBC World Service "My perfect city" features Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo among other experts. They discuss Singapore as a city which attempts to improve residents' mental wellbeing through urban design.
Generally, people in cities are likely to experience mental health problems. This counts for about 38% more than people living outside of big cities. Urban greening and creating therapeutic gardens with contemplative features can really help. But also, promoting high amenity public spaces, physical exercise, housing security and social services are important too! These solutions can make a city more liveable but also reduce rates of disorders such as OCD, anxiety and depression.
But are these community-based, non-medical approaches enough to improve mental health among the population of the highly urbanized Singapore? Let's find out!
Listen to the end to find out if Singapore receives 3 ticks - a perfect city mark. This means that Singapore should be an example to follow by other cities!
Taking part in the podcast like this one was a great experience. Thanks to endeavours like this one we can share the knowledge from the scientists and inform the public!
Here are some other blog posts related to Singapore:
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/
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.
MindWave Mobile 2
Still in production
349.00 (Ultracortex Mark IV)
399.00 (Electrode Cap)
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!
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!
President and Founder of NeuroLandscape. She is a Ph.D. in landscape architecture and urban ecology, who has explored the relationship between the different features of the natural and built environment’s influence on human health and wellbeing. In her research she has successfully incorporated neuroscience tools to investigate the changes in brainwave oscillation in participants exposed to different types of designed landscape. She has introduced and operationalized the term contemplative landscape and proposed a quantitative assessment scale to distinguish landscape views according to which are most beneficial for mental health in terms of passive exposure. She has developed several research projects worldwide and established international research networks across multiple universities. She is an originator of the idea for the VR_HEATHER project, which builds upon her research and is also in line with the statutory goals of NeuroLandscape.
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:
an introduction to the ISGA activity by Kerry Logan;
showcasing international best-practice examples, by Kathrin Schmiele;
research and design lessons from neuroscience by Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo;
strategies for the design of schoolyards for students Claire Latané.
The current global outbreak of #COVID19 makes the problem of our living space and mental health more relevant than ever. Read more in our recent blog post. This is why we need new solutions and new approaches.
Please complete this 5-min, anonymous survey. If possible, share it with your family and friends, with special attention to elderly people, who (that’s our guess) could benefit from our solutions the most.
It is well known to the environmentalists that Bangladesh is currently considered the 7th most vulnerable country to the adverse effects of ongoing climate change. What we do not know, however, is the adverse effects that are already in place and how much it is tangled with rural-urban migration, rehabilitation, gender, human rights, and health issues with a large share of mental health problems, seldom studied and looked into.
To investigate what is the aftermath of women coming into Dhaka and settling inside the slums after facing the atrocities of natural hazards linked with climate change- I, along with my teammate Rupita, Ananya, Mimi, Jahin went through thorough interviews and focus group discussions with the displaced ladies. We focused on women who came to Dhaka in 10-15 years from the present time, as various studies suggest that more than 80% of displaced people from the time after 2010 would be climate migrants.
What we found out so far was more astounding than expected. Women, unlike men, came to Dhaka only when their families had reached the bottom level of poverty- when they had lost everything to the disasters. There were attempts to be settled near their origins by many of them, but futile. Dhaka city, to them, was not an option, rather the only hope of survival. None of the interviewees claimed they wish to live in Dhaka– many of them have adopted a tedious life on bare minimums to save money- so that perhaps one day they can go back to their origins and settle. But in reality, this is a dream achievable by only a few. With their average household income of 5 to 10 dollar a day, in the 72nd most expensive city to live in, saving money is nearly impossible.
All of our respondents claimed being stricken with ‘poverty’ after surviving climatic hazards. Neither authorities of their origin nor in Dhaka were prepared to rehabilitate them. The result- migration into shabby slums in Dhaka as these were the only places accessible and ‘relatively’ affordable to them, and the city had better employment opportunities for such ‘ill-fated’ women.
Misery, however, never left the ladies.
According to the women, they feel despair from the cutoff of rural lifestyle. The environment and culture is very different from what they are used to live in. They feel out pf space. Poverty in the slums is worse than imagination. Not only the people, especially women, earn less, but the cost of basic facilities are much higher, yet inadequate. Moreover, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) like catcalling and sexual abuse is very common for the women in slums. The structures and design of slums only make things worse for them. The houses in the slum are very small, roughly 100 sq ft. Each family reside within one of such houses, with only one room in it. The houses have no space in between them, and the paths connecting the slums can be as narrow as 3 ft. This makes the residence in the houses and even walking in the paths uncomfortable. They feel a lack of privacy in their new life. Fire hazards are frequent, and fear of eviction is a constant threat in their lives. Lack of water supply points and toilets leave them prone to health hazards and security threats alike. On one hand, lack of toilets puts women in a vulnerable position to GBV when using the toilet or collecting water, especially during night time. On the other hand, it forces them to reduce drinking water, hold onto urine and follow unsanitary practices during menstruation- causing dehydration, urinary infection, constipation, uterine prolapse, and reproductive problems. Rising temperature increases the demand for drinking water. With groundwater depletion, the supply of water becomes scarce and women are the worst sufferers of the condition. They are the ones expected to reduce consumption first. Also, erratic rainfall causes flooding in the slums, that impede them from collecting water or going to toilets.
Even though our interviews didn’t focus on the mental health of the woman, prevailing notion of chronic stress and fear they deal with every day was evident within the fear of violence, eviction and lack of belonging and identity. In all of our interviews, participants expressed their frustrations, insecurities and struggles of everyday life.
In short, the cost of survival is beyond our imagination. Further investigation can help us understand their extent of adaptation within urban spaces, especially in slums. Mental health associated with coping with a new urban environment losing their home, security threats, condition of facilities and changed identity and their needs for rehabilitation needs to be thoroughly understood to ensure a better life for them.
Bangladesh has made remarkable improvements in tackling natural hazards by reducing casualties and economic loss. But to be truly a resilient nation, we have to prepare ourselves to restore the lives of climate survivors, not forgetting the ladies.
The talk aimed to share the multidisciplinary work that is conducted in NeuroLandscape with special attention to the new program Nature Connection and Mental Health of the Communities launched last year.
The information included some of the preliminary study results obtained from the two main international research clusters in Medellin (Colombia) and Dhaka (Bangladesh). The presentation discussed the social and scientific research approaches that NeuroLandscape is leading in order to understand the contribution of nature in the mental health of low-income communities with the aim of informing new urban design models.
Staff from the Universidad de Caldas Manizales and the National Training Service (SENA) joined in the discussion of creating possible cooperation between institutions and NeuroLanscape in order to consolidate future social and scientific projects in the city of Manizales that could contribute to the health and well-being of the communities in this city.
With combined efforts from the educational institutions and the scientific background of Neurolandscape, future projects are envisioned, in which a greater network of opportunities that include new research projects and transfer skills education programs could be established with the aim of benefiting low-income community residents.
Singapore is one of the most prominent examples of Urban Sustainability through new technologies, research and development. It is also one of the few countries where the government is actively supporting science and innovation in order to inform the practice of urban design and solve urban living issues. The Urban Sustainability R&D Congress is organized since 2011, biannually, and invites all R&D projects pursued by Government agencies, collaborating with local and international research institutions.
One of the keynote speakers, Dr Elsa Arcaute from UCL, a researcher of Cities as Complex Systems, when asked by a panel moderator, Dr Cheong Koon Hean (CEO of Housing & Development Board) what advice does she have for Singapore, she answered to just continue what Singapore was already doing. She mentioned that she as a researcher is used to “begging” urban decision-makers to look at the results of her work. In Singapore, authorities are not only interested to hear researchers out but also keen to fund the applicable research.
Congress is a national platform for government agencies, research community and industries to come together to discuss R&D responses for urban solutions and sustainability. The exhibition is also a showcase of the most interesting solutions and research in progress. Everything is presented with typical to Singapore care to impress all the visitors.
Singapore has been striving to balance economic growth with a high quality of life and care for the environment. As a result, it has to deal with many challenges, including the growing burden of mental health disorders and the aging population. These challenges were recognized and addressed at the Congress through a “Greater Sustainability Track”, which shared the benefits of adopting sustainable and biophilic design ideas, provide behavioural and technological insights to aid the creation of a high-quality living environment. On this track the preliminary study of Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo, President of NeuroLandscape was presented, you can watch her speech on our youtube channel!
Photos: 1. Punggol Digital District https://www.jtc.gov.sg/industrial-land-and-space/Pages/punggol-digital-district.aspx , 2.& 3. A.O.G
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
“Environments that are rich in stimulus improve the brains of pre-school children.”
“Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style.”, and
“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
“Children must acquire their native language before a second language is learned.”
“Learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education.”, and
“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.
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.