Environment and affect (Topic 2)

Mood affects people’s judgments and actions. Well-designed places with good ambience are more likely to engage us and restore our ability to stay alert and be active. In this topic (Topic 2), researchers have been looking at the emotional dimensions of place using mobile neuroimaging methods to record measurable responses to different environments. Data from just over 100 older participants has been correlated with observational data that maps the social and dynamic context of place to better understand how setting impacts on behaviour.

Pilot EEG study in The Meadows

Team: Richard Coyne, Jenny Roe, Peter Aspinall, Catharine Ward Thompson, Ian Deary, Neil Thin, Sara Tilley, Chris Neale, Steve Cinderby, Panos Mavros and Katherine Brookfield, with assistance from Agnes Patuano and Esther Rind.

Form: Direct behavioural observation. Field studies using GPS recorder and Electroencephalography (EEG) Neuro-headset. Walking interviews.

Outputs: Methodology for understanding negative and positive emotive ‘hot spots’ in the environment that affect older people’s mobility. A potential tool for evaluating environmental design interventions. Identified ‘affective’ dimensions of places.


Following pre-piloting testing of technology, methodology and six suitable walking routes, our pilot EEG study ran for two months in summer 2014. The research involved both lab-based and outdoor testing with 20 older volunteers (aged 65-90) in Leith, Edinburgh. The findings were presented by Chris Neale at the 46th Annual Conference of the Environmental Design Research Association, EDRA46, in Los Angeles, California, in May 2015.

Our full EEG study ran from May to September 2015. In total, 95 older people participated, of whom eight also took part in qualitative interviews about their experience. In tandem, we also conducted 19 walking interviews. All interviews have been transcribed and the data analysed. The findings were presented at the Mobility, Mood and Place conference in Edinburgh in October 2016 and a number of papers have now been published or are in press.

Papers on this topic (including the pilot study):

Neale, C., Aspinall, P., Roe, J., Tilley, S., Mavros, P., Coyne, R., Thin, N., Bennett, G. and Ward Thompson, C. 2017. ‘The Aging Urban Brain: Analyzing Outdoor Physical Activity Using the Emotiv Affectiv Suite in Older People.’, Journal of Urban Health doi:10.1007/s11524-017-0191-9

Read this paper online

Tilley, S., Neale, C., Patuano, A. and Cinderby, S. 2017. ‘Older people’s experiences of mobility and mood in an urban environment: a mixed methods approach using electroencephalography (EEG) and interviews’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 14(2), 151 doi: 10.3390/ijerph14020151

Read this paper online

Aspinall, P., Mavros, P., Coyne, R. and Roe, J. 2013. ‘The urban brain: analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG’, British Journal of Sports Medicine doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2012-091877

Read the abstract online

Roe, J., Aspinall, P., Mavros, P. and Coyne, R. 2013. ‘Engaging the brain: the impact of natural versus urban scenes using novel EEG methods in an experimental setting’, Environmental Sciences 1(2):  93-104

Read this paper online


Still from Engaging the Brain
VIDEO > Engaging the Brain

A short documentary by MMP collaborator, Panos Mavros, about the 2013 pilot study for MMP Topic 2, Environment and affect which used mobile EEG to analyse outdoor physical activity. Hosted by vimeo. Duration: 03 mins 52 secs

PRESS ARTICLE > Parks make us smarter – science proves it! 

Article on Salon.com by US journalist, Henry Grabar, featuring Topic 2 and an interview with MMP team member, Richard Coyne. Published 21st September 2013.

PRESS ARTICLE > Easing brain fatigue with a walk in the park

New York Times blog post by US journalist, Gretchen Reynolds, on our 2013 pilot study for MMP Topic 2. Published 27th March 2013.