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Why We're Not Meant to Live in Boring Cities

Features like blank street facades literally turn us off, decreasing mental stimulation and bringing on restlessness and stress. Research points to worrying consequences for people who find their city, well, boring.
September 22, 2015, 9am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Ron Cogswell

Colin Ellard, an environmental psychologist and neuroscientist, connects the bland facade of a Whole Foods store to study participants' lackluster mood. "These people were bored and unhappy. When asked to describe the site, words such as bland, monotonous and passionless rose to the top of the charts."

When asked about their experience roaming a more interesting locale, "the words that sprang to their minds were mixed, lively, busy, socialising and eating. Even though this site was so crowded with pedestrians that our participants struggled to find a quiet place to reflect on our questions, there was no doubt that this location was to their liking on many levels."

Ellard discusses why we prefer stimulating places, streets full of people and activity. It can even be argued that staid environments contradict our intelligence as a species. "At a psychological level, these constructions fail us because we are biologically disposed to favour locations defined by complexity, interest, and the passing of messages of one kind or another."

Maybe we accept un-ornamented, utilitarian spaces because we expend so much attention on the digital world. "But unless our electronic connections can supplant our physical surroundings, the widespread adoption of global, functional designs will have [negative] psychological consequences of the kind described here."

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Published on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 in Aeon
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