Scientific Proof that the Whole Foods Bowery Complex is Bad for our Mental Health
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Enough glass already. These ugly buildings are bad for our collective health, argues cognitive neuroscientist Colin Ellard.
This assertion might sound familiar. In complement to that NPR radio show in which he participated a few months ago (“Science Friday”), New York Magazine published a follow-up dispatch about the negative effects of bland buildings. Specifically, the luxury rentals complex, The Chrystie (formerly the Avalon Chrystie).
Ellard, a neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo, became interested in this piece of real estate five years ago and partnered with the Guggenheim Museum to analyze what happens when someone “turns out of a tiny, historic restaurant” [Yonah Shimmel’s] and is bum-rushed by a full city block with nothing but “the long, blank facade of the Whole Foods Market.”
In 2011, Ellard led small groups on carefully planned Lower East Side walks to measure the effect of the urban environment on their bodies and minds. Participants recorded their response to questions at each stopping point and wore sensors that measured skin conductance, an electrodermal response to emotional excitement. Passing the monolithic Whole Foods, people’s state of arousal reached a nadir in Ellard’s project. Physiologically, he explained, they were bored. In their descriptions of this particular place, they used words like bland, monotonous, and passionless. In contrast, one block east of the Whole Foods on East Houston, at the other test site — a “lively sea of restaurants with lots of open doors and windows” — people’s bracelets measured high levels of physical excitement, and they listed words like lively, busy, and socializing.
And studies show that feeling meh can be more than a passing nuisance. For instance, psychologists Colleen Merrifield and James Danckert’s work suggests that even small doses of boredom can generate stress.
Boredom, surprisingly, increased people’s heart rate and cortisol level more than sadness.
There might even be a potential link between mind-numbing places and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. In one case, physicians have linked “environmental deprivation” to ADHD in children. Homes without toys, art, or other stimuli were a significant predictor of ADHD symptoms.
So the trick, it seems, is to design a world that excites but doesn’t overly assault our faculties with a constant barrage of information.
So … there’s that …