Researchers in Europe and Japan found that the amount of green space and proximity to a person’s home reliably predicted mental and physical health. Anxiety and depression was significantly reduced in the presence of green space. Vegetation creates “a halo of improved health.” Dr. Frances Kuo at the University of Illinois demonstrated that just seeing a tree helps cognition and promotes a sense of well-being. Kuo strongly believes that lack of trees is debilitating to general social health. “A disappearing urban forest leads to psychological, physical, and social breakdown,” says Kuo, “Just as animals in unfit environments develop certain behavioural and functional pathologies, we may see more child abuse or crime or their problems when people live in unfit environments.”
Attention Restoration Theory suggests that a human-made environment of objects—cars and buildings—requires high-frequency processing in the brain; while a landscaped environment allows the observer to relax his or her attention, resulting in reduced muscle tension, lower heart rate, and a generally less stressful physiology. What naturally appeals to us, what is considered beautiful, while subjective, also follows a kind of “universal” tendency. for instance, a Harvard Medical School study showed that people gravitated to rounded edges and that the amygdala (the part of our brain that registers fear) was more active when people looked at sharp-edged objects. Symmetrical shapes are generally considered more appealing than asymmetrical ones. I talk more about this in Chapter 8 of my book “Water Is…”. Shape (e.g., symmetry), texture, tone, height and colour all play a role in determining how mind, heart and spirit function in the creative process. A study published in 2000 by environmental psychologist Nancy Wells found that ample daylight and greenery boosted attentiveness, focus, and academic performance.
A UK study demonstrated that a spacious and attractive courtyard encourages positive social interaction. In her August 2015 presentation at the ISA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, Ellen Vincent reported on therapeutic benefits of Nature images in various settings. Studies conducted from the 1980s to the present have indicated that Nature views reduce stress, anxiety and pain and that architecture affects medical outcomes.
In discussing the use of shapes in design, Vanseo Design describes natural and organic shapes and form as irregular. They have more curves and are uneven and tend to be pleasing and comforting. While they can be man-made (ink blobs), they are typically represent shapes found in nature such as a leaves, rocks, and clouds.
Organic shapes are generally created through the use of illustration and photography. They are free form and asymmetrical and convey feelings of spontaneity. Organic shapes add interest and reinforce themes.
Spirals, which are found in natural growth patterns of many organisms, suggest the process of growth and evolution. Spirals, say Vanseo, convey ideas of fertility, birth, death, expansion and transformation. They represent trust during change, the release of energy and maintaining flexibility through transformation. Curved shapes offer rhythm and movement, happiness, pleasure and generosity.
- Deasey, Louise. 2015. “Negative Ions Are Great for Your Health”. Body and Soul.
- Robbins, Jim. 2012. “The Man Who Plants Trees”. Spiegel & Grau, New York. 256 pp.
- Wells, Nancy M. 2000. “At Home with Nature: Effects of ‘Greenness’ on Children’s Cognitive Functioning”. Environment and Behavior 32 (6): 775–795.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.