Measuring Urban Design's Impact on Our Brains

Columbia University's Cloud Lab aims to measure participants' brainwaves and figure out their state of mind of as they experience their surroundings.
May 17, 2014, 5am PDT | Helen Brown
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Sarah Goodyear reports on her personal experience as a participant for a "brain-imaging experiment," run by Mark Collins of Columbia University's Cloud Lab. In the study, which Collins describes as "more of a large-scale art project" than scientific research, participants were asked to wear a NeuroSky device (similar to a Google Glass) to measure brain waves as they walked around New York's Dumbo neighborhood.

Goodyear summarizes the experiment: "The NeuroSky device…takes readings of the brain’s electrical activity…An algorithm then…summarizes them into two general states – attentive and meditative. The idea behind the visualization will be to 'spray' this data onto a 3D map of the neighborhood we walked around and see what it reveals about the mental state of the experiment’s participants as they moved through space."

The experiment aims "to monitor our brain waves, hoping to harness the resulting data to better comprehend how human beings interact with their urban and architectural environments." In this way, Collins hopes to gather data that will be used "when we design cities or neighborhoods or when we make decisions about the urban experiences we want to pursue."

The article does not describe how a "meditative" or "attentive" state of mind will be interpreted to inform urban design or policy. In the near future, though, we may see brain wave measuring devices that help us capture insights about urban design perception that is too subtle for words or observation.

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Published on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 in CityLab
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