Scene and Place Preferences: Insights from Psychology and Neuroscience (2021)

Vartanian, O., Walther, D. B., Djebbara, Z., & Gosling, S. (2021) ‘Scene and Place Preferences: Insights from Psychology and Neuroscience’, in XXVI Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics 2021. London/Virtual Conference.

Full proceedings also found here.

Outline. Our aesthetic responses to objects extend to natural scenes and indoor places. Interestingly, people exhibit greater variability in their aesthetic responses to human artifacts such as interior architecture than they do to natural phenomena such as landscapes. This suggests that the behavioral relevance of natural scenes triggers fairly consistent information processing across individuals, whereas architectural interiors reflect aesthetic sensibilities that reflect varying experiences. However, to date, we know little about specific factors that drive our preferences for scenes or places. This symposium’s aim is to present cutting-edge research in the domains of psychology, neuroscience and computational modelling on the psychological and neurological underpinnings of scene and place preferences. Focusing on scenes, Walther et al. used computational methods to derive an objective measure of complexity, and used fMRI to show that it was associated with activation in early visual areas, whereas subjective complexity ratings were associated with activation in high-level visual areas. Djebbara et al. used a Mobile Brain/Body Imaging approach that integrated Virtual Reality with mobile EEG to demonstrate that early perceptual processes vary as a function of affordances upon scene perception, suggesting that action and perception are inherently related. Gosling et al. examined which ambiances people desire as a function of occupational settings, perspectives, and individual spaces, aiming to create a taxonomy of ambiances to inform theory and practice in environmental psychology. Finally,
Vartanian et al. present psychological and neurological data to show that people’s preferences for interior architecture are influenced by bidirectional bottom-up and top-down processes.


Dirk B. Walther, Elizabeth Yue Zhou, Claudia Damiano, John Wilder: Relating Brain Activity to Subjective and Pixel-based Complexity Measures

Visual complexity is an important mediator for visual aesthetics, yet there is a lack of consensus over the best way to objectively measure it. Here we propose two computational methods for measuring perceived complexity. The first is Multiscale Entropy (MSE), which measures information content of an image at multiple spatial scales. Secondly, since the compression algorithm in the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format implements Huffman coding, we use PNG file size as an information-theoretically optimal measure of non-lossy compressibility of the image information. We collected subjective complexity, symmetry and aesthetics pleasure ratings from Amazon Mechanical Turk for 6929 images from the BOLD5000 and SUN image datasets. Both the MSE and the PNG method are positively correlated with human complexity ratings, explaining about 10% (BOLD5000) and 20% (SUN) of the variance. We also found positive correlations of complexity ratings with those of pleasure (r=0.43) and symmetry (r=0.28). Does this mean that those simple, pixel-based algorithms are a good approximation for the subjective experience of complexity? To answer this question we compared the fMRI activity of participants viewing the images with pixel-based complexity measures and complexity ratings. We find that pixel-based complexity measures are associated with activation in visual areas V1 to V4, whereas subjective complexity ratings are associated with activation in high-level visual areas PPA, RSC and LO. This finding supports the view that our algorithms only capture low-level features in images, and illustrates that higher-level information should be included in models to better match the subjective experience of complexity.


Zak Djebbara, Lars Brorson Fich, Klaus Gramann: How Are Architectural Features Reflected in the Brain?

On an enactive account, perception and action are inherently related so that scene perception can be characterized by the capacities for movement. For the majority, everyday scene perception is likely to be of architectural features that afford certain actions relying on sensorimotor processes associated with exploring the surroundings. We sought to understand how architectural affordances are reflected in the brain upon perceiving an environment and during the interaction. To answer this question, we used a Mobile Brain/Body Imaging approach that integrates Virtual Reality with mobile EEG. Our participants (n = 19) were exposed to architectural transitions with varying affordances they had to interact with. We analyzed the time and frequency domains upon perceiving the scene and while approaching the door, respectively. Our results demonstrate that early perceptual processes vary as a function of affordances upon perceiving the scene providing evidence that action is inherently related to perception. While approaching the transition, the source-level time-frequency analysis revealed a strong alpha desynchronization originating from the posterior cingulate complex, the parahippocampal regions, as well as the occipital cortex, fluctuating as a function of the affordances. We conclude that sensorimotor brain dynamics reflect behavior-relevant features and that to perceive a scene is to continuously construct a prediction of the scene dependent on our action potential. These results indicate that anticipation in time is as important as the object in space during scene perception.


Samuel D. Gosling, Stacy Speck, Joel Anderson: The Structure and Distribution of Desired Ambiances Within Residential and Work Settings

What characteristics do people desire in the various spaces within their homes and workplaces? Most fundamentally, the spaces must meet basic physical needs, such as regulating temperature, light, and humidity. They must also afford security and support the successful completion of a range of personal, professional, and social activities (e.g., cooking, working, bathing, sleeping). Most home and workspaces meet such goals. But people typically want to do more than meet their basic physical needs and undertake their daily activities; they also want to regulate their cognitive and affective states. Occupants of a home may seek spaces that afford companionship, rejuvenation, relaxation, romance, fun, and a sense of coziness, family, and welcomeness. Office occupants may seek spaces that promote creativity, productivity, organization, and foster a sense of respect, safety, and community. Little is known about these less concrete, psychological features, or “ambiances” that people may want in their home and work spaces. Here we seek to map the basic terrain of desired ambiances. Using data gathered from adults working across a range of occupational settings, we ask which ambiances do people desire in their workspaces and how do the desired ambiances vary across occupational settings (e.g., commercial, health-care, education), across perspectives (e.g., nurse vs. patient; teacher vs.
student), and individual spaces (e.g., entrance, office, meeting room, circulation space). Ultimately, we hope to create a taxonomy of ambiances that will inform theory on environmental preferences and will provide a practical framework for practitioners in architecture and design.


Oshin Vartanian, Letizia Palumbo, Anjan Chatterjee: Exploring Preference for Architectural Interiors: Top-down and Bottom-up Approaches

Our research into the psychological and neurological underpinnings of preference for architectural interiors has involved two approaches. On the one hand, we have examined the impact of various physical features of architectural design (e.g., contour) on preference. This research has shown that the impact of design features on choice is moderated by both context and individual differences. For example, architects and designers exhibit greater sensitivity than laypeople to contour in the context of aesthetic judgments, whereas laypeople exhibit greater sensitivity to contour than architects and designers in the context of approach-avoidance decisions. In addition, compared to neurotypical controls, persons with autism spectrum disorder are more likely to exhibit preference for architectural interiors with angular design in the context of aesthetic judgments but not approachavoidance decisions—an effect driven by their atypical emotional and perceptual processing, or familiarity. A second line of research has involved exploring the impact of higher-order psychological dimensions on preference for architectural interiors. Specifically, we have shown that preference for architectural interiors can be explained using Coherence (ease for organizing and comprehending a scene), Fascination (a scene’s informational richness and generated interest), and Hominess (how much a space feels personal). In turn, these dimensions have dissociable neural correlates in the visual cortex. Our current work has shown that the influence of these dimensions is moderated by individual differences, involving comparisons among neurotypical controls, persons with autism spectrum disorder, and design students. We will demonstrate that preference for architectural interiors is strongly modulated by bottom-up and top-down processes.

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