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The urban brain: analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG

Abstract

Background Researchers in environmental psychology, health studies and urban design are interested in the relationship between the environment, behaviour settings and emotions. In particular, happiness, or the presence of positive emotional mindsets, broadens an individual's thought-action repertoire with positive benefits to physical and intellectual activities, and to social and psychological resources. This occurs through play, exploration or similar activities. In addition, a body of restorative literature focuses on the potential benefits to emotional recovery from stress offered by green space and ‘soft fascination’. However, access to the cortical correlates of emotional states of a person actively engaged within an environment has not been possible until recently. This study investigates the use of mobile electroencephalography (EEG) as a method to record and analyse the emotional experience of a group of walkers in three types of urban environment including a green space setting.

Methods Using Emotiv EPOC, a low-cost mobile EEG recorder, participants took part in a 25 min walk through three different areas of Edinburgh. The areas (of approximately equal length) were labelled zone 1 (urban shopping street), zone 2 (path through green space) and zone 3 (street in a busy commercial district). The equipment provided continuous recordings from five channels, labelled excitement (short-term), frustration, engagement, long-term excitement (or arousal) and meditation.

Results A new form of high-dimensional correlated component logistic regression analysis showed evidence of lower frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher meditation when moving into the green space zone; and higher engagement when moving out of it.

Conclusions Systematic differences in EEG recordings were found between three urban areas in line with restoration theory. This has implications for promoting urban green space as a mood-enhancing environment for walking or for other forms of physical or reflective activity.

  • Physiology
  • Physical Activity and Exercise Methodology
  • Psychology
  • Stress
  • Walking

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