Lessons from neuroscience: form follows function, emotions follow form

Upali Nanda, Debajyoti Pati, Hessam Ghamari, Robyn Bajema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The argument that the environment impacts human perception and behaviour, and vice versa, is not a new one. What is lacking however is a fine-grained, deep understanding of the neural underpinnings that drive human behaviour as a result of environmental interaction. The challenge of simulating three-dimensional environments while mapping brain behaviour (which is still a rather confined activity) has made this initiative daunting. In this article, we argue that a common unit between architectural environments and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments is 'the visual image'. Architecture relies on visual stimuli to conceive, design, present, and even experience environments. fMRI experiments use visual stimuli to induce desired cognitive and emotional states to study the neural underpinnings. Although a wealth of evidence exists in the field of environmental psychology and psychophysiology on how visual images, specifically nature content in visual images, can reduce the negative emotions of fear, pain and anxiety-aiding restoration to a positive state, it is not clear, however, which specific visual properties contribute to this effect. If the specific visual properties could be isolated and correlated to specific emotional response, they could serve as the building blocks for designing not just for functions a design supports, but also the emotions it invokes. In this article we look at the emotional impact of visual stimuli, and bridge the evidence between environmental psychology and neuroscience, within the scope of nature images, to identify specific visual properties that (may) elicit emotional responses. We then investigate a particular visual property 'contours' and explore it within the theoretical paradigm of neuro-architecture to generate specific hypotheses for architecture and neuroscience. Finally, we take the discourse to architecture and explore the relevance of the subject of form, especially rapid emotional response to form, elicited by the specific property of contours.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-78
Number of pages18
JournalIntelligent Buildings International
Issue numberSUPPL1
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • aesthetics
  • environment and behaviour
  • evidence-based design
  • user experience design


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