Neuroscience, Wellbeing, and Urban Design: Our Universal Attraction to Vitality

Colin Ellard


Although urban planners and architects have understood that there is a relationship between the design of a setting and our thoughts and emotions, it is only recently that we have had the tools to properly dissect this relationship. New methods for measuring brain states in field settings in immersive virtual reality have generated a host of novel findings, but a theme that connects many of these findings together is the idea that human beings have a deep affinity for vitality at every level from the interior of a home to an urban streetscape. Not only this, but recent evidence suggests that we respond to the vitality of scenes almost immediately, even after exposures as brief as 50 milliseconds, possibly using ambient visual processing mechanisms that rely on our peripheral visual field. Further, when we sense and respond to vitality, positive affect increases, which in turn promotes affiliation and buffers us against urban loneliness. I will present findings from experiments both in the laboratory and in the field that show the power of vitality to effect behavioural change, and I will argue that harnessing this power is one of the keys to building a psychologically sustainable city.


urban design; urban streetscape; vitality; sustainable city.

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