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NeuroArchitecture, Emotion and Decision

By Andréa de Paiva 

Have you ever regretted any decision you made in the heat of a moment? Or have you ever counted till 10 to avoid deciding or saying something with a hothead? What are the mental processes behind decision making? And what is the link between NeuroArchitecture and all this? That is what we will discuss in today's article.

Brain and emotion
Source: doctorschoicebd

The Portuguese neuroscientist António Damásio is a reference on the studies about the influence of emotions on decision making. Very often we regret decisions made in the heat of a moment because this "heat" is exactly the symptom that our emotions are in a peak and, therefore, the rational content of our choices and decisions is lower [1]. However, if we stop and count till 10, breathing deeply, we delay the moment of decision making, reestablishing higher levels of self control and rationality. But neuroscience has proved that it is hard to revert deep emotional states and it requires a lot of effort and energy from the cognition centres of the brain. So, if you ever let yourself be swayed by the heat of the moment and then regretted, be cool: this is very commom. 

Our emotions are always influencing the way we perceive the world. Therefore, we see the world through the filter created by the emotion we have at the moment [2]. If we are afraid, a dark room in the middle of the night might seem scary. If we are angry, a nice landscape view might look less beautiful. If we are sad, a walk might seem longer and more tiring than if we were happy.

Those filters impact not only our perception, but also our decisions. It can be a simple decision, like expressing an opinion, or a complex decision, like buying a house, for instance. In the case of the dark room that looks scary, we might change our minds and decide to turn on the lights. In the case of the landscape view that does not seem that beautiful, we might decide not to buy a house in that area. Finally, in the case of the walk that seems longer, we might decide to go by car or not to go at all. If the emotional filters were different, our decisions could have been different too.

However, the most interesting aspect of this discussion is the power of architecture to stimulate and alter emotional states, changing the filter thorough which we perceive the situations surrounding us. Thus, we can not only perceive the world and the situation in a different way, but this can also change our behavior. The architecture "speaks" directly to our emotions and they, on their hand, influence our choices, performance and decisions.

Some practical examples are: the supermarket ceiling, when it is higher, it can make us more distracted influencing us to buy more flawed products [3]; theater illumination can help us to forget reality and enter on a world of fantasy; the position of the boss' chair can cause intimidation or induce more respectful attitudes from the employees. In all these cases, the spaces have a direct influence on the people who occupy them, stimulating more impulsive or more balanced atitudes and decisions, consciously or not.

Are we conceiving and designing spaces that are consistent with the emotions and behaviors we would like to stimulate? Do you think the spaces of public schools are really helping children to learn and socialize? Or the architecture of hospitals, do you think that they are stimulating physical and psychological recovery of patients? Or even our cities, do you think they support citizens to socialize and relate to each other and the space in a harmonic way? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Due to this, it is possible to conclude that the use of NeuroArchitecture is fundamental to make our relation with built spaces healthier, functional and human.

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[1] DAMÁSIO, A. (1994) Descartes error: emotion, reason and the human brain. New York: Putnam Publishing. ISBN 978-0-399-13894-2

[2] DAMASIO, A. (2003) Looking for Spinoza. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt . ISBN 978-0-15-100557-4

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