Welcome to the second and final part of my exploration into at how the space within which humans interact can affect their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In Part 1, I explored the impact of the type of furniture, size of room, as well as the benefits of letting visitors choose aspects of their environment. This month, I’ve delved back into our research archive to look at what psychology suggests may be the best solutions when it comes to lighting, color, temperature, and even what you choose to hang on the walls.

Perhaps one of the most robust findings related to psychology and space is the benefit of natural light. Not only has there been extensive research that has demonstrated that people prefer natural to artificial light (Sundstrom, 1986) but in addition, and perhaps more importantly, natural light has been shown to have positive impacts on performance, satisfaction, and well-being (Sundstrom, 1986; Ulrich, 1984). Furthermore, when spaces are perceived as dark people often feel dissatisfaction, which is possibly not an emotion you want those meeting within your venue to be feeling just before they interact with each other (Oldham & Yitzha, 1987).

Now, based on this research, if you are concerned that clients may suddenly abandon your venue and take their event outside where they can benefit from maximum levels of natural light then fear not. While there are some benefits of interacting outside (which I will come on to), you might be surprised to learn that some research advocates holding an event in a windowed space where light levels could be lower. The reason relates to how the changing light affects the whole ambiance of space. The impact of the sun changing position throughout the day, as well as changes in cloud cover—and therefore levels of natural light—can stimulate, add variability and mitigate the adaptive effects of staying in the same environment. Essentially the space can “feel” very different at 4 p.m. than it did at 9 a.m. However, bear in mind that the type of activity that is taking place may benefit from lower levels of light. A recent study, for example, found that dimly lit spaces encourage creativity by encouraging global and explorative cognitive processing through promoting feelings of freedom from constraints (Steidle & Werth, 2013).

Windows not only provide access to light, they can also provide a view which, in itself, can have an impact, too. For example studies into the area of psychology called “embodied cognition” suggest that the feeling of being physically confined may also lead to feeling mentally confined and result in people being less creative and expansive in their thinking (Leung, A. K et al., 2011). One impact of this insight could be for venues to consider using high-definition images of views on walls to add a sense of space and distance.

The same solution could be used in relation to the research I alluded to earlier that highlights the potential benefit of holding an event outside. It relates to the positive impact that nature and greenery have been shown on psychological and physical functioning (Ulrich 1984; Leather et al., 1998; Berman et al., 2008). Furthermore, neuroimaging has demonstrated that the pleasure centers of our brain are activated when looking at natural landscapes (Bierderman & Vessel, 2006). So, why not bring the outdoors inside? With increased levels of creativity, attention, and concentration linked to the close proximity of indoor plants (Atchley et al., 2012; Raanaas, et al. 2011), it would seem a great option. However, if this isn’t possible, then don’t fret as this research suggests that even when plants are not available reminders of nature through artwork and color have similar effects and have been shown to reduce anxiety levels, too. So, as well as images of distant horizons, how about covering walls with super high definition prints of scenes of greenery and nature—something I see more and more at international airports now?

While it goes without saying that air quality is important within a venue, temperature has also been found to be one of the key sources of dissatisfaction (Sundstrom, 1986). Early research in this area found there was a wide variations of preferences across individuals, with almost equal numbers finding environments being too cold (21 percent) versus too hot (25 percent) (Langdon, 1966).

Additional research has indicated that an ambient temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius) with moderate humidity and air movement is ideal (Sundrstrom 1986).

Although it is worth noting that some studies have shown that some noise can increase performance and satisfaction through encouraging optimum levels of arousal (Mehta, Shu, and Cheema 2012), for many years environmental noise has been seen to have a negative psychological impact. As such, environments that minimize noise, through the use of soundproofing and acoustic technologies, have been seen as beneficial (Sundstrom, 1986). However, this is not just limited to spaces that are what we might consider excessively noisy. Interestingly, studies have found that spaces that are no noisier than an average open plan office have also demonstrated negative impacts (Evans & Johnson, 2000). The irony being that when the environment is too quiet it can cause people to increase their focus on even the quietest noises—the recognizability of speech causing particular annoyance and something many of you will have experienced first-hand (Schlittmeier & Liebl, 2015).

Just as with the curvy rooms that I mentioned in Part 1, curvy furniture has been found to generate more pleasure and desire (Dazkir & Read, 2011). Furthermore, when chairs are arranged in a circle they have been found to promote intergroup belonging (Zhu & Argo, 2013), but then again perhaps chairs are not always necessary as creativity and group performance has been found to increase when people are standing up rather than sitting down (Knight & Baer, 2014). It was found that when standing arousal increased and territoriality decreased, which encouraged people to experience a more shared mindset and led to increased creativity through collaborative problem solving and idea elaboration.

Some colors have been demonstrated to have an impact on the success of different types of tasks. For example blue colors (Mehta & Zhu, 2009) and green colors (Lichtenfeld, et al. 2012) have been demonstrated to improve creativity, whereas the color red has been found to be associated with attention to detail (Mehta & Zhu, 2009). This may not need to be related directly to the color of your venue walls but instead consider your lighting (technology means that LED lighting can now be set to almost any color), objects, or furniture.

Finally, there is also evidence that certain types of artwork can encourage creative thinking. When students were presented with art that broke from rules of symmetry they produced more creative responses (Förster et al., 2005).

I hope the last couple of columns have been of interest and look forward to connecting again before the end of the year. FM

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References (specific)

  • Atchley, R. A., Strayer, E. L. and Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PLoS ONE, 7 (12), 1 – 3.
  • Berman, M. G., Jonides, J. & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19, 12, 1207-1212.
  • Bierderman, I. & Vessel, E. (2006). Perceptual pleasure and the brain. American Scientist, 94, 249-255.
  • Dazkir, S. and Read, M. (2011). Furniture Forms and Their Influence on Our Emotional Responses Toward Interior Environments. Environment and Behavior, 44(5), 722-732.
  • Evans, G. W. & Johnson, D. (2000) Stress and open-office noise. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(5), 779-783.
  • Förster, J, Friedman, R. S., Butterbach, E. B. & Sassenberg, K. (2005). Automatic effects of deviancy cues on creative cognition, European Journal of Social Psychology 35, 345–359.
  • Knight, A., & Baer, M. (2014). Get Up, Stand Up: The Effects of a Non-Sedentary Workspace on Information Elaboration and Group Performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 14 (5), 910-917.
  • Leather, P., Pyrgas, M., Beale, S. & Lawrence, C. (1998). Windows in the workplace: Sunlight, view and occupational stress. Environment and Behavior, 30 (6), 739-762.
  • Leung, A. K., Kim, S., Polman, E., Ong, L., Qiu, L., Goncalo, J. A., & Sanchez-Burks, J. (2011). Embodied metaphors and creative “acts”
  • Oldham, G. R. & Yitzhak, F. (1987). Employee reactions to workspace characteristics. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72(1), 75-80.
  • Litchtenfeld, S., Elliot, A., Maier, M. & Pekrun, R. (2012). Fertile green facilitates creative performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38 (6), 784-797.
  • Manning, P. (1965). Office Design: A Study of Environment by the Pilkington Research Unit. Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press.
  • Mehta, R., Zhu, R., & Cheema, A. (2012). Is noise always bad? Exploring the effects of ambient noise on creative cognition. Journal of Consumer Research, 39 (4), 784-799
  • Raanaas, R. K., Evensen, K. H., Rich, D., et al. (2011). Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31 (1), 99-105.
  • Schlittmeier, S. J. & Liebl, A. (2015). The effects of intelligible irrelevant background speech in offices – cognitive disturbance, annoyance, and solutions, Facilities, 33 (1/2), 61 – 75.
  • Steidle, A., & Werth, L. (2013). Freedom from constraints: Darkness and dim illumination promote creativity. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 35 (September), 67–80.
  • Sundstrom, E. (1986). Work Places: The Psychology of the Physical Environment in Offices and Factories. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  • Ulrich, R. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery, Science, 224 (4947), 420-421.
  • Wenner, M (2009) The Serious Need for Play. Scientific American Mind
  • Zhu, R. & Argo, J. (2013). Exploring the impact of various shaped seating arrangements on persuasion. Journal of Consumer Research, 40(2), 336-349.

(Image: yornik Heyl/Creative Commons)