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Towards psychologically informed cities


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Prof Rhiannon Corcoran, University of Liverpool as part of the Back to basics – human physiology, psychology & place-making dialogue.


Supported by ARCC Network, Feeling Good Foundation, Wellcome Trust, European Cultural Foundation

Published in: Environment
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Towards psychologically informed cities

  1. 1. TOWARDS PSYCHOLOGICALLY INFORMED CITIES INSTITUTE OF PSYCHOLOGY HEALTH AND SOCIETY Rhiannon Corcoran ARCC- Human Physiology, Psychology and Place-making The Wellcome Trust, 18.11.15 @rhiannoncor | @prosocialplace
  2. 2. Topics  Introduction to the Prosocial Place Programme ethos, background, purpose and objectives.  Exploring key terms –wellbeing; community wellbeing; prosocial  Three experiments showing how places change people  in the lab  in the city  in engaged design  Introduction to ‘Well-design’
  3. 3. Exploring the interaction between the psychological mechanisms of mental health and wellbeing and the social and physical quality of place. Aspiring to build resilient communities and neighbourhoods to support improved levels of mental health and wellbeing through cooperative communities and well-connected places. Prosocial Place Programme
  4. 4. Central Tenet – Places Change People Aspects of our Human Ecology determine our thoughts, feelings and behaviour Life History Theory shows how the qualities of an environment directly determine our life strategies and our wellbeing, emphasising the importance of place-making. Where resources are perceived to be stable, reliable and predictable, people plan their futures, develop the capacity to adapt to inevitable life stresses, cooperate with other future -oriented people to determine their positive futures. Where resources are perceived to be unstable, unreliable and unpredictable thrill seeking and non-cooperative impulsive, self-centered choices are primed and become the norm.
  5. 5. “Mount Fear” Abigail Reynolds
  6. 6. “In great cities men are brought together by the desire of gain. They are not in a state of co-operation, but of isolation, as to the making of fortunes; and for all the rest they are careless of neighbors. Christianity teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves; modern society acknowledges no neighbour.” Cities…are they good for us? Benjamin Disraeli
  7. 7. The Urbanicity Effect Schizophrenia & Depression  Faris & Dunham (1939) “Mental disorders in urban areas”: SZ was much more common in deprived inner city Chicago than its affluent suburbs.  Wirth ( 1938): depression higher in urban compared to rural settings  Pedersen & Mortensen (2001): a dose-response relationship between time spent in urban environments in childhood and risk.  Sundquist et al. (2004): Sweden - 4.4 million adults. Those living in the most densely populated areas had 68–77% more risk of developing psychosis and 12 –20% higher risk of developing depression than the reference group.  Vassos et al. (2012): meta-analysis of the association of urbanicity with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbs096.
  8. 8. What is Wellbeing? Feeling good and functioning well. Depends on having access to the things that make life worthwhile. Hedonic approach: Well-being from the pursuit of maximum pleasure and minimum pain. Eudaimonic approach: (ancient Greek good ‘eu’ and spirit ‘daimon’) Well-being from the pursuit of meaningful goals; ‘transcending oneself’ for the sake of the greater good.
  9. 9. Community Wellbeing –the professionals’ views • 315 professionals/practitioners working in the field of wellbeing surveyed. • What is meant by the term community wellbeing? • 62%: ” strong networks of relationships and support between people in a community, both in close relationships and friendships, and between neighbours and acquaintances”. • 35%: “people feeling able to take action to improve things in, and influence decisions about, their community”. • 30 %: “people’s feelings of trust in, belonging to and safety in their community”.
  10. 10. Wellbeing in Place – the People’s Views “What makes a good place?” 66 views aired I - Community Spirit; Good People & Neighbourliness II - Nature & Open Space III - A Clean Living Environment
  11. 11. “Where do you go to feel better?” 51 views expressed I - Nature & Open Space II - Family & Friends III - Private Activities Diversions Wellbeing in Place – the People’s Views
  12. 12. “Where’s Your Dismaland?” 29 Views Aired I - Aspects/Features Of City Living II - Matters Of Governance/ Politics III - Being Alone Wellbeing in Place – the People’s Views
  13. 13. What is Prosociality? Prosocial behaviour is voluntary, intended to benefit others and has deep evolutionary roots. Dimensions include: • Altruism - incurring indirect cost to self by helping others - basis of evolution of social species. • Empathy - understanding the feelings and thoughts of others and behaving accordingly - basis of culture. • Co-operation - working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit – basis of wellbeing.
  14. 14. Examples of Prosociality Individual altruism… “A tower block in which the warden decided to help develop the previously unconnected residents into a community, including a conservatory, cafe, gardens, etc., based on the concept of the world's oldest residential towers in Yemen. The block went from having empty flats to a waiting list to move in.” ….engenders mutual trust “Being able to trust a number of your neighbours to look after your house or pets when you are away. Small actions like this that engender mutual trust are important to feeling a sense of community.”
  15. 15. Claiming the Public Realm “A once run down, crime ridden area has been given a new sense of pride for the individuals to live in due to one street deciding to come together to do little things i.e. plant flowers and shrubs and discourage their children throwing litter around etc. It has made a huge difference over time and led to people appearing to smile more. “ “Spread & growth of 'Playing Out' activities. This is where streets are closed to traffic for short periods of time, but opened-up to children and adults to play, talk, interact and socialise. This has the potential to increase exercise for children, reduce isolation and loneliness, allow neighbours to get to know one-another, builds trust, understanding, increases safety in that people look out for one- another and much more.” Encouraging Prosociality
  16. 16. Psychological Studies of Immersion in Place
  17. 17. Research in the Lab - Places Change Outlooks Can consideration of places change locus of control? (depression) Can consideration of places change what we expect to happen to us? (paranoia/social anxiety) Can consideration of places change Whether we think about the future? (wellbeing) ...and will self-reported level of depression / anxiety, paranoia & wellbeing effect this?
  18. 18. Research in the Lab - Places Change Outlooks Lower mood and higher stress Feelings of paranoia Lower levels of general wellbeing Higher resilience scores partially protect us from these automatic responses to place Higher reported social capital may also be protective
  19. 19. Research in the City – Places change beliefs  Kensington & Fairfield Ward (L7). Almost the entire ward is in the most deprived 5% of neighbourhoods nationally.  Picton Ward (L8). Almost 40% of the residents here are working class or not working. 76.4% of neighbourhoods in this ward fall within the most deprived 5% of neighbourhoods nationally.  St Michael’s Ward (L17). Comprises over 70% middle and upper middle class residents. It is less deprived than the Liverpool average. 22.1% of the area is in the 10% most deprived, far less than the Liverpool average 49.6%. thereversibleroute
  20. 20. Places Change Beliefs Student walkers appreciate their relative advantage after walking through places: significant change in self reported socio-economic status of family. Walkers will give more to a community cause after actively experiencing places.
  21. 21. Places Change Beliefs Walkers from high SES families anticipated the most threat during the walk - especially when walking through the most deprived areas. On-the-spot inferences about community- spiritedness and the trustworthiness of residents were highly correlated, place- sensitive and related to cues of deprivation. Relationships between place and responses were more pronounced in people who endorsed more paranoid feelings and more negative emotions.
  22. 22. Places Change Beliefs– sentiment analysis Expression of sentiment within salient feature descriptors correlates with on-the-spot sense of : threat = -0.45: trust =0.63; wealth/resource = 0.65: community spirit= 0.58
  23. 23. Engaged Place-making: Places Change Perspectives
  24. 24. Co-Design of Place - A thematic analysis A Home for The Reader Organisation  Increased responsibility for place.  Increasing Implicit Mastery.  An ‘allocentric’ consideration of place.  Optimism.  Co-operative Decision- Making. VISION – Group 1 The Reader Organisation will create a new heart for Calderstones: building a cultural community for the benefit of the city. OBJECTIVES Create an accessible cultural hub for the local community Realise the heritage and landscape assets of the park Develop an attractive metropolitan destination within the city Establish a sustainable and identifiable home for the reader organisation Provide inclusive and equitable wellbeing outcomes VISION – Group 2 The Reader Organisation will create a relaxing, inclusive and sustainable home for a cluster of cultural pursuits with reading as its foundation. OBJECTIVES  Facilitate a range of accessible and inclusive cultural activities  Provide inclusive and equitable wellbeing outcomes  Provide an exemplar 21st century suburban neighbourhood  Realise the attractions of the park  Develop an attractive metropolitan destination within the city  Establish a sustainable and identifiable home for the Reader Organisation
  25. 25. A Common Sense of Place Kevin Lynch ‘The Image of The City’ Connectivity & Movement The importance of visual cues A nurturing place
  26. 26. Introducing Well-Design Can the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ deliver place-making principles?
  27. 27. “Well-design” Get Connected Well-Design should: facilitate movement between gathering places and interaction between people. Be Active Well-design should: prioritise active movement in the public realm and generally facilitate the pursuit of physical activity. Take Notice Well-design should: elicit conscious awareness of place; avoid risk-averse approaches which strip agency; foster flexible dynamic design to surprise and re- orient attention.
  28. 28. “Well-design” Keep Learning Well-design should: endorse engaged design to enable individuals to learn about their place; encourage ‘conscious foraging’ where dealing with uncertainty engages the brain. Give Well-design should: give ‘place’ back to people through co- production; advocate volunteering in the pursuit of good places to live; prioritise flexible spaces to accommodate prosocial community activity.
  29. 29. Summary and Conclusions  Introduced the concept of social sustainability with concepts such as prosociality and community wellbeing  Introduced the Prosocial Place Programme of applied research and knowledge– Places change people  Described some experiments to show how places change people. Showcasing the psychological effects of place at different levels of immersion  Argued that evidence- based principles and guidance about wellbeing can be used to inform place-making Creating Prosocial Places – Manifesto 06.15