This blog continues our series on sensory event design and is focusing on the sense of vision, and some of the surprising ways that what we see and what sights are within a space or environment can impact how people feel and function. From an event perspective, understanding the benefits of what visuals can improve performance, reduce stress and provide comfort gives us a great advantage in providing attendees with an event experience that feels good and where retention is optimised.
The visual that is most impactful on humans is visuals of nature. Viewing nature stimulates a larger portion of the visual cortex than non-nature scenes, which triggers more pleasure receptors in the brain and leads to prolonged interest and faster recovery. For example, heart-rate recovery from low-level stress in an office or professional environment occurs 1.6 times faster when the space has a glass window with a nature view (Kahn et al, 2008). Even something as brief as a 20 second interlude looking up and at nature at a distance greater than six metres (20 feet) allows for a short mental break which sees muscles relax and our eye lenses flatten (eye lenses tend to curve and the muscles tighten when looking at computer screens1.
Where there’s an opportunity for a longer break, viewing nature scenes for 20 minutes returns cerebral blood flow and brain activity to a relaxed state following activation or stress (Tsunetsugu & Miyazaki, 2005; Brown, Barton & Gladwell, 2013).
Interestingly, how much nature we see in a space can change what the effect of it is. One study showed that a room with moderate wood wall coverage (45%) was viewed as ‘comfortable’ and saw a significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure and increase in heart rate, which would be good for concentration. In a room with a large wood ratio (90% coverage) there was a decrease in brain activity, which would suit relaxation, and which may help explain why a spa retreat or restoration space benefits from having a high coverage of a natural element like wood (Tsunetsugu, et al, 2007). Knowing this allows us to understand what kinds of visuals will suit the objective of our event and how we want people to feel and be able to perform when attending.
Science shows that humans have a visual preference for organic, biomorphic forms, and views overlooking nature can enable us to feel less fatigue, alleviate eye strain, headaches and discomfort. The presence of water and seeing water, whether near or far, can give multi-sensory benefits1, soothing our nervous systems, prompting contemplation and focus, enhancing mood and restoring us after cognitive fatigue.
Importantly from an event perspective, the research also shows that a repeated experience of seeing or viewing nature doesn’t diminish the interest or the impact, so a single, small feature or presence in an event space can be adequate for seeing a benefit (Biederman & Vessel, 2006). A single high-quality element is better than numerous low-quality ones, and elements can be scaled to suit the setting.
When planning events, it is really worth considering, how might a view of nature be incorporated? We want people to feel comfortable, receptive, safe and to enjoy their experience at our event. We might look at the space where an event is held and see if it offers windows with a view to nature, or if we can bring an outlook of nature into the space via pictures or artworks. While real views have a stronger response than simulated, a simulated view is far better than none at all. A setting that allows for a visual connection to nature that can be experienced for 5-20 minutes per day is all it can take to create significant psychological and physiological benefits, and a much-enhanced event experience.
Kahn, Jr. P.H., B. Friedman, B. Gill, J. Hagman, R.L. Severson, N.G. Freier, E.N. Feldman, S. Carrere, & A. Stolyar (2008). A Plasma Display Window? The Shifting Baseline Problem in a Technology Mediated Natural World. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28 (1), 192-199. 46
1. Terrapin Bright Green LLC Study, 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design,
Tsunetsugu, Y. & Y. Miyazaki (2005). Measurement of Absolute Hemoglobin Concentrations of Prefrontal Region by Near-Infrared Time-Resolved Spectroscopy: Examples of Experiments and Prospects. Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science, 24 (4), 469-72. 30 113
Brown, D.K., J.L. Barton, & V.F. Gladwell (2013). Viewing Nature Scenes Positively Affects Recovery of Autonomic Function Following Acute-Mental Stress. Environmental Science & Technology, 47, 5562-5569. 28 111
Tsunetsugu, Y., Y. Miyazaki, & H. Sato (2007). Physiological Effects in Humans Induced by the Visual Stimulation of Room Interiors with Different Wood Quantities. Journal of Wood Science, 53 (1), 11-16. 84 86
Biederman, I. & E. Vessel (2006). Perceptual Pleasure & the Brain. American Scientist, 94(1), 249-255. 31 64 66 73
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