The Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University recently wrote an article about Colin Ellard, a cognitive neuroscientist who uses virtual reality to study individuals’ responses to environments. Individuals in Ellard’s studies wear headsets and “move” through different spaces, such as streetscapes or a building’s interior, and, as they do so, Ellard asks them questions about how they experience these environments, records gaze patterns, and observes stress and arousal indicators.
Ellard sees his work as a tool for testing how design changes, such as increasing or decreasing a room’s ceiling height or adding complexity to a façade, affects behavior. He notes that poor design is not just unappealing, but affects health. For example, boredom has been shown to increase cortisol, which can impair metabolism and mental function, among other things.