Air is something humans clearly can’t live without. And fresh air is often something we crave – that feeling of opening up the window and breathing in clean, new air is one we can all relate to.
In this blog, the next in our series exploring the senses and how to harness the power of our sensory perceptions in the design of our events, we’ll take a look at air. We’ll also briefly incorporate the feeling of touch, which is not dissimilar to our experience of feeling air on our skin or the movement of air in our environment.
One way to understand how air can affect how we feel is to think about a really windy day.
Often on high wind days, people can feel impacted, maybe through being more irritable or feeling tired. There’s science behind this. When the air is very turbulent, there are higher levels of positively charged ions in the air. That’s because the turbulent air strips away the negatively charged electrons from what are normally neutral molecules of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen. These then change from neutral to positively charged ions. If the weather is also moderate to warm and a little bit humid, the effect is increased, with even more positive ions in the air1.
It’s these positive ions that are said to be behind the physical and psychological consequences of high wind days. While science can’t explain exactly why, the effects of positive ions have been shown to increase irritability, slow our reaction times, increase physical tension, foster inattention and fatigue, and in some cases it can bring on migraines or other physical ailments. No wonder the term ‘an ill wind’ has been around for centuries!
There’s even more research supporting the importance of fresh, non-turbulent air. Access to feeling and breathing fresh air improves concentration, cognitive function, and improves blood pressure levels, which is logical given our physiological need for oxygen. Increased natural air flow can prevent ‘sick building syndrome’, another example of how air can impact the people working and spending time in a space2.
When it comes to our events, one way to improve air quality might be to add in some vegetation. Vegetation is excellent for reducing particulate matter in the air and improving air filtration. It can also reduce heat levels in warm environments and give a visual cue to people that there is a subtle air flow and air movement in a space if there is some movement of the vegetation. A softly billowing curtain may be another way to make a space with less access to fresh air feel more aerated.
The feeling of fresh air also highlights the sense of touch. While touch may not be the most relevant or the most easily accessed sense at an event, something as simple as touching a real plant, for example, can induce relaxation through a change in cerebral blood flow rates (Koga & Iwasaki, 2013). Touching and petting animals and fur can have a profoundly calming effect on our physiology2, and in an event context, access to the feel of fabrics, sculpture, masonry, woodwork, stone, plants and having direct, physical access to nature in a space can benefit those attending.
Next in our series we will be looking at smell, another powerful sense and one that is linked to what the air around us is carrying into our noses.
1. Hetzler, Paul. Positive ions can make for an ill wind, North County Public Radio, February 26, 2017.
Koga, K. & Y. Iwasaki (2013). Psychological and Physiological Effect in Humans of Touching Plant Foliage - Using the Semantic Differential Method and Cerebral Activity as Indicators. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 32 (1), 7.
2. Terrapin Bright Green LLC Study, 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design,
Fetching Events & Communications is a boutique agency that works with the community, for the community, specialising in project management, event management, communications and volunteer engagement. Combining our international event experience in media with our communications knowledge and skills, Fetching Events & Communications provides a fully integrated events, volunteer engagement and communications service.