Health and Wellbeing in the Built Environment
We are a group of environmental psychologists, medics, social scientists, statisticians, planners, architects and landscape architects researching how the built environment impacts on health and wellbeing. There are two main themes to our research. The first theme relates to the applied vision research of VisionCentre3 and explores visual function in different situations and its relationship to quality of life. The second theme is restorative and supportive environments and their links with wellbeing. Specific research areas under these two themes include:
1) Applied vision research:
a. Research on mobility and falls in elderly people.
b. Vision at altitude with mountaineering groups.
c. Light emitting polymer for low vision situations.
d. Eye tracking and navigation through the built environment.
e. Light and its impact on circadian rhythms and wellbeing.
2) Restorative environments
a. Cortisol as a biomarker of stress to explore neighbourhood effects of green space.
b. EEG brain activity to measure emotional responses to urban and natural settings.
c. Woodlands and their impact on perceived stress (see Case Study below).
d. Blue health: the health promoting benefits of water settings and the negative psychological health effects of flooding and climate change.
We employ a range of innovative methods to explore health and wellbeing including conjoint analysis (NICE recommended for health research); personal project analysis and affordance theory. We are closely linked with other research departments in the University including Life Sciences and are part of the Water Academy at Heriot- Watt University. Our research is funded by U.K. research councils, the Scottish Government and agencies (e.g. Forestry Commission Scotland and Centre for Expertise for Waters (CREW), the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and leading charities (e.g. RNIB).
Longitudinal research exploring the impact of environmental interventions in deprived communities of Glasgow.
Our researchers, in collaboration with OPENspace at the University of Edinburgh, have carried out longitudinal research on behalf of Forestry Commission Scotland exploring the impact of an environmental woodland intervention (Woods In and Around Town (WIAT) on quality of life, physical activity, and changes in overall perceptions of quality of the neighbourhood environment. The research was carried out in an area of very high deprivation in Glasgow, over a three year period (2006 to 2009). A key component of the study methodology was the inclusion of a control site in order to detect any changes in attitudes, perceptions and values over time that might reflect broader societal influences or other interventions within the general urban area.
Results showed highly significant change over time in the intervention site in perceptions of the quality of the neighbourhood environment, an indicator of quality of life. The research also found significant increases in physical activity and woodland use over time in the intervention site, and an increased awareness of the social potential of urban woodlands, compared with negative or no change over time in the control site. In summary, findings showed environmental interventions in deprived urban locations can positively impact on use patterns, physical activity, perceptions of environment and, ultimately, quality of life.
This research is continuing under an £1million grant from NHS’ National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), led by OPENspace with four academic partners including Heriot-Watt University. The study will look specifically at the impact of WIAT on the psychological wellbeing of people living in deprived communities in Scotland’s ‘central belt’ over a three-year period (2012 to 2015).