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Sixty years later Salk's hunch is now backed up by empirical evidence as new research in neuroscience hints at how our surroundings affect feelings and behavior. In the current issue of Scientific American Mind, Emily Anthes describes how ceiling height, colors and other design factors influence attention and creativity. Scientists are just beginning to address these questions, in part by studying changes in brain activity as subjects make their way through virtual reality rooms.
The neuroscience of design is still in its infancy, but it has its own organization, The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture in San Diego, and some architecture schools now include some basic neuroscience in their curriculum. Are we on the verge of a new field of emotionally intelligent design? Here are few early findings:
A study by neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School found that faced with photographs of everyday objects--sofas, watches, etc.--subjects instinctively preferred items with rounded edges over those with sharp angles. Mose Bar, a neuroscientist, speculates that our brains are hard-wired to avoid sharp angles because we read them as dangerous. He used a brain scan for a similar study and found that the amygdala, a portion of the brain that registers fear, was more active when people looked at sharp-edged objects.
A study published earlier this year in the journal Science found that we remember words and other details better when surrounded by red,and that we're more creative and imaginative in the presence of blue. So if your staff is, say, proofreading or debriefing they're better off in a red room. But if they're brainstorming ideas for a new marketing campaign, blue is the color.