Environmental influences on affect and cognition: A study of natural and commercial semi-public spaces
Journal of Environmental Psychology
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Research has consistently shown differences in affect and cognition after exposure to different physical environments. The time course of these differences emerging or fading during exploration of environments is less explored, as most studies measure dependent variables only before and after environmental exposure. In this within-subject study, we used repeated surveys to measure differences in thought content and affect throughout a 1-h environmental exploration of a nature conservatory and a large indoor mall. At each survey, participants reported on aspects of their most recent thoughts (e.g., thinking of the present moment vs. the future; thinking positively vs. negatively) and state affect. Using Bayesian multi-level models, we found that while visiting the conservatory, participants were more likely to report thoughts about the past, more positive and exciting thoughts, and higher feelings of positive affect and creativity. In the mall, participants were more likely to report thoughts about the future and higher feelings of impulsivity. Many of these differences in environments were present throughout the 1-h walk, however some differences were only evident at intermediary time points, indicating the importance of collecting data during exploration, as opposed to only before and after environmental exposures. We also measured cognitive performance with a dual n-back task. Results on 2-back trials replicated results from prior work that interacting with nature leads to improvements in working-memory performance. This study furthers our understanding of how thoughts and feelings are influenced by the surrounding physical environment and has implications for the design and use of public spaces.