Navigating Urban Spaces Demands Attention: Evidence from Physiological Indices of Arousal and Visual Attention

Sep 20, 2012

Previous research has demonstrated a profound influence of the configuration of urban and interior spaces on aggregate human movement rates within those spaces. The researchers present an investigation by having participants navigate through two virtual environments which differed in the configuration of the included buildings. When navigating through the less structured, unintelligible environment participants were found to follow longer paths and take more time to complete the task. Accordingly, blink-rate and heart rate were found to be higher in the unintelligible environment throughout the navigation task. These measures were also found to be correlated with the questionnaires measuring mindfulness. However, correlation analysis also revealed that mindfulness was related to the distance traveled and time needed to complete the navigation task. This pattern of results indicates that if exosomatic variables, such as connectivity and integration, are driving performance, then reduction in the systematicity or intelligibility of a built environment will place significant demands on a navigator's spatial cognitive abilities, shaping their navigation qualitatively and quantitatively. These results not only further an understanding of how people navigate through the built environment, but also have implications for the predictions derived from architectural models based on the structure of space, such as space syntax, currently used in architectural practice.

Kevin R. Barton, MA (University of Waterloo, Ontario)
Colin Ellard, PhD (University of Waterloo, Ontario)
Presented at: 
2012 ANFA Conference (Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA)
Published & professionally reviewed by: 
Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture

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