Southwest Doctoral Training Programme (SWDTP) - working title: Comparing methods of exposure to urban environments and their effect on enhancing menta

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Faculty of Health and Life Sciences


Mental wellbeing is a major concern for public health. Globally, almost 1 billion people are affected by mental disorders (IHME, 2017). Research shows that being in nature can be of great benefit to mental wellbeing (WHO, 2019) and this may be of particular benefit to populations with limited mobility, such as the elderly or infirm (Yeo et al., 2019). Attention Restoration Theory posits that natural environments have positive psychological outcomes, including replenished direct attention and reduced stress (Kaplan, 1995). However, with 83% of the UK population living in urban areas (DEFRA, 2019) and urbanisation trends growing worldwide (Ritchie and Roser, 2018), there is a need to understand how urban environments could be optimised for mental health benefits. Research has found urban environments to have negative effects on wellbeing (Krefis et al., 2018), but research by Bornioli et al (2018) suggests that exposure to historic and modern urban environments can also benefit wellbeing.

The research project is investigating this further by exposing participants to videos of various urban environments. The experimental design assesses the effects on wellbeing of environments that are green versus not green, and modern versus historic. During the videos, changes in subjective state (questionnaire), and physiological measurements including electroencephalography (EEG) or other psychophysiological measures (e.g. electroderamal activity/EDA, heart rate varuiability/HRV) are recorded. The proposed methods are relatively low cost, widely accessible and have potential applications for enhancing wellbeing in the general population. This PhD proposal has three aims: (a) to identify optimal urban environments which could confer similar benefits in immersive virtual reality (IVR) to real life; (b) to explore the potential to use such technology and stimuli for the benefit of elderly populations with limited mobility, and; (c) to pilot the effectiveness of a virtual reality intervention for this population.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2431711 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2020 01/10/2024 Rebecca Reece