Welcome to our Q&A with Dr. Esther Sternberg. If you attended her lecture Wednesday on "How our Surroundings Influence Happiness and Health," you may have questions or want to know more. Ask away!
Welcome! I look forward to answering your questions about place and wellbeing - and how you can change your surroundings to influence your health!
Thank you, Lydia for your question and all your work on this great lecture series.
In answer to your questions, this sort of research is just being done. Major standard setting and licensing bodies and organizations like the AIA, GSA and USGBC, are all developing standards that will be applied across all building types to include human health and wellbeing outcomes. This will include the types of buildings to which you refer, including schools.
One of the goals of the Institute on Place and Wellbeing that we are creating at UA will be to help both UA facilities and external organizations implement these principles of design and health. A number of UA departments and centers have already approached us for advice and we are working with them. Stay tuned!
What kinds of technologies are available to monitor people's stress responses in the built environment?
There are many non-invasive devices available to measure the stress and relaxation response in real-time. These include heart rate variability monitors connected to your smart phone, like the ones athletes use to measure the stress and relaxation response. At UA our bioengineers are developing "smart textiles" - smart shirts, smart socks - to measure people's activity in real-time and real place. This is an exciting time and we are at a new frontier at the interface between design professions, medicine and engineering!
You talked about this in your lecture, but can you give people ideas of what they can do to reduce stress in their work environments; for example, when they can't see outside and can't move their desks?
You can add greenery - small plants, pictures of favorite places or nature, bright colors and artwork.
Professor Shaun McCann at Trinity College Dublin did a study with bone marrow transplant patients and found that images of artwork projected on the wall, favorite places, pictures of loved ones all helped improve their quality of life, including better moods.
This is a very new concept, which is just beginning to be incorporated into new design, and will be more so going forward.
Both too much sound - ie noise, and too little - which is associated with isolation, can be bad for your health if experienced for long periods. In intensive care units, where the decibel levels have been measured at the level of the firing of a motorcycle at close range (>90db).
Studies in Sweden in
Studies in Sweden in which ceiling tiles were changed to be more absorptive of sound in the intensive care unit resulted in decreased stress amongst the staff, better sleep for patients and better health outcomes.
In addition to the ceiling tile study I mentioned, there are new devices being developed that mask sound. In addition you can use white noise or "pink noise" - sounds of nature, which you can download off the Web, to mask sounds.
I discuss this in both my books - Healing Spaces, and in The Balance Within. There is no question that spiritual experiences and beliefs are associated with health benefits. We are planning to study the impact of the desert environment on spirituality and health in a study on Tumamoc Hill.
Lowering cubicle walls helps people to connect more easily with others, and so enhances community and collaboration. It also increases light in the cubicle - which is beneficial for moods and health. Every beneficial change always can have a down side. In this case lack of privacy and noise might become issues. In order to get around those problems, organizations are including private meeting spaces, which can be booked for privacy, and are looking into ways to reduce noise.
We are currently developing a method to measure stress and immune biomarkers in sweat in my lab at UA, and we plan to apply this method to studies as soon as it is available.
This is an excellent question and a great study. We need more studies like this. Full spectrum sunlight is most effective in improving moods, and that may be why the white paint which probably reflected the widest spectrum of light, helped reduce distress. New technologies are being developed to detect both wavelength (color) and intensity of light in real-time and real-place. One of our faculty at the Institute on Place and Wellbeing is an expert in this, especially changes in mood in response to changes in light across the day. We are planning such studies at the UA IPW.
Optimal amount of anything - including, plants, is a very individual thing. The best way to judge how much is too much, is whatever makes you comfortable. If taking care of the plants stresses you out, use desert plants (we've got a lot here :) like cacti that don't need watering. Or you can use plastic plants or silk flowers! Or pictures of plants. If you are allergic to plants or mold, then you are probably better off going the fake plant route.
Our studies have focused on wavelength of light, rather than color on the walls. Dr. Eve Edelstein has published several papers in this regard. More studies like yours are needed to identify optimum color on walls.
Nature scenes and videos on the wall are effective - this was part of the program that Prof McCann used in Dublin on his transplant patients, called "Open Window". The patients requested scenes of cows and horses grazing and they filmed and projected the videos, which are almost hypnotically relaxing to watch. The patients loved them!
One important point is that there is a large variation in individual tastes, as well as a general preference across cultures and ages for looking at nature scenes. In prof McCann's study, one patient requested to watch the boats going by at the Dublin harbor, and Prof McCann worked with the City of Dublin to hook up a live webcam so the patient could watch while he was in isolation in his hospital bed. This greatly improved his mood!
Thanks for the questions; they will be answered soon.
Another of Prof McCann's patients preferred to have a webcam hooked up to his apartment balcony so he could watch the progress of the construction site across the street - and that improved his mood!
There are large differences in people's awareness of their surroundings. Design professionals are trained to notice details. Most of us, I believe are less aware of our surroundings, although our moods are influenced by them even if we are not consciously aware of it.
Yes - both pleasant and unpleasant odors affect mood. I describe this in my book Healing Spaces, and in the PBS show The Science of Healing with Dr. Esther Sternberg. We visited the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, where this is being studied in great details.
Much of the effect of odors on mood come from learned associations, which can link odors to moods in the same way Pavlov's dogs learned to associate a bell with salivation and hunger.
In addition, fragrances are actually small chemical molecules that are detected in the nose and can have actual chemical effects - like lavender, which induces relaxation in humans and slow wave sleep in some animals.
In general, darker blues and greens are thought to be calming and yellows and oranges and reds exciting. Much of this comes from the same kind of learned associations I described in my last answer. Some may be in our genes, as described in my lecture, with the default mode of the brain being to calming blues and greens and exciting responses to reds. That said, individual preference is important, and more studies need to be done to answer this question.
In my book Healing Spaces, I describe studies, which a paint company did using rooms bathed in different colors of light - yellow, red and blue - where they found effects on people's behaviors and moods. This is different than paint color on the walls, where more studies are needed..
Thank you all for your very intresting questions - you were a great audience here and at the Fox Theater!
Thank you for joining our live chat. Remember there is another lecture Wednesday with Dr. David Raichlen and he will answer readers' questions a week from today. Check azstarnet.com for more information.