A↔N #9: August in San Diego 3. MEASURING PHYSIOLOGICAL AND NEURAL CORRELATES

August in San Diego 3. Measuring Physiological and Neural Correlates

Neuroscience For Architecture, Urbanism & Design

Michael A. Arbib

This is the third of a series of nine posts on the A«N blog reporting on the “Neuroscience For Architecture, Urbanism & Design” Intersession held at NewSchool of Architecture & Design in San Diego on August 12-15, 2019. The individual posts range in length from 1300 to 3000 words. The first post provides an overview of the series, along with a Table of Contents with links to each of the posts. A PDF of the whole series may be found here.

Core Neuroscience: The Autonomic Nervous System

Much of NfA stresses the role of the central nervous system in supporting action, perception, cognition, memory and more. However, Eduardo Macagno reminded us of the complementary role of the autonomic nervous system and its importance for homeostasis. It can control breathing, heart rate and many other bodily functions that complement the integration of sensory systems and skeletomuscular systems within the action-perception cycle. It contains two systems that in some sense work against each other. For example, the sympathetic nervous system constricts the pupil, the parasympathetic nervous system dilates it. Pupil dilation may be measured both as a response to illumination level and as a correlate of stress/arousal. As a first approximation, the sympathetic nervous system can be associated with Fight and Flight modes, the parasympathetic with Feed and Breed. [Karl Pribram (1960)famously referred to these as the four F’s.]

What can we measure and what does it mean?

Much of our knowledge of neuroscience comes from animal studies, ranging from the genetics and molecular biology of basic cellular mechanisms including synaptic plasticity, via single and multi-cell recordings of neural activity during specific tasks, all the way to observations of behavior in single animals and groups both in the lab and in the wild. However, Eduardo Macagno focused on the challenges of measuring human response within the built environment. He noted that just putting an EEG headset on a subject does not mean that one can interpret the waveforms. Any experiment requires something like this methodology:

  • Define a question of interest.
  • Narrow it down to an answerable form.
  • Select the best methodology to gather data, e.g., using a questionnaire or physiological measurements.
  • Design the experimental paradigm and controls.
  • Do double blind analysis of data to avoid bias in the interpretation.

Tools include brain scanning. fMRI offers good spatial resolution and poor temporal resolution of brain activity, but requires the subject to lie in a scanner with little or no movement. EEG offers poor spatial resolution and good temporal resolution and has the advantage of portability. Behavioral analysis can track overt movements, including eye movements, whether of the individual or group. An essay by Ann Sussman and Janice M. Ward[1] in Common Edge argues that “Game-Changing Eye-Tracking Studies Reveal How We Actually See Architecture.”

One may seek to study action in the built environment or evocation of certain emotions as a design goal. For the latter, pupil dilation and galvanic skin response may provide relevant data. Light wearable devices make measuring responses to the real environment more practicable. Studies may employ VR (virtual reality) but one then needs to study at least some of the functions in the real environment to at least establish how well the data may correlate.

Different studies may require different measurements. To keep the costs of such studies under control, it is then preferable to network a few cheaper devices than use expensive commercial multi-purpose tools. To this end, Siddharth, Patel, Jung, and Sejnowski (2018) have developed a wearable multi-modal bio-sensing system capable of collecting, synchronizing, recording, and transmitting data from multiple bio-sensors. Such a system enables devices to “talk” to each other, unlike devices from different commercial vendors.

Architecture Education

There was rather little discussion at the Intersession of how NfA could be factored into the Architecture curriculum. Should neuroscience be taught explicitly? Would architects benefit from more courses in the humanities? And so on. One speaker suggested focusing the last 2 years of an architecture degree on gaining a better understanding of the behavior and experiences of users of buildings. But “almost no architecture faculty have the necessary background for this and so we need to encourage students to go out and search for this knowledge themselves.” NfA progress requires that architects learn to pose questions that can indeed engage neuroscientists (in the broad sense). It may take a broad knowledge of the literature to find the relevant people with whom to engage on a specific problem, yet it is hard to get Architecture students to develop a skill for close reading of the literature.

Don Norman stressed that science is creative and decries a hard boundary between art and science. His group at the Design Lab at UCSD is thinking of developing a Master’s degree that can build on an undergraduate degree that offers courses in the humanities and cultures. A weakness of the Lab at present is a lack of consideration of aesthetics. Intriguingly, when I asked him what principles of cognitive science should be part of the design curriculum, he could not specify any. He came up, rather, with rules-of-thumb and general strategies derived from design experience: For example, an ethnographic approach to design requires a good interviewing technique – and here it is important to learn how to listen. Indeed, when he joined Apple, Norman found that much of his knowledge of Cognitive Science was not directly applicable but, presumably, it informed his approach to solving design problems. For example, he used the term affordancesin his book The Design of Everyday Things.

Spending time in a science lab can be transformative in giving architects a sense of how scientists think. The most important contribution thus came from Eduardo Macagno. He observed that the graduate-level Certificate in Neuroscience for Architecture at NewSchool has three courses (one of which he has co-taught for many years) leading up to an NfA-influenced studio project, but NewSchool has no laboratory. With Tom Albright and others he sees laboratory experiments as the key to getting a feel as to what it is to do science, and neuroscience in particular. He has thus developed N-LEAD, the Neuro-Lab for Experiments in Architecture and Design as a possible model for expanding Architecture education when an NfA component is desired. With the help of Kris Mun from NewSchool, he set up a 4 week N-LEAD workshop at UCSD this summer (2019) bringing architecture students together with UCSD students in a mix of disciplines. Each day there were lectures in the morning by architects, device designers and others, with lab work in the afternoons. An important aim was affordability, keeping the budget for the devices used under $5K. Sample projects taught students how to use an eye tracker, a simple wearable EEG device, and a heart rate monitor. As a result, students learned a lot about how to design experiments and use devices.

Physical Reality “versu”s Virtual Reality

Kris Mun + Biayna Bogosian compare a scientific experimental process with an architectural design process. The latter may include interviews on the path to construction. A scientist might seek to quantify loneliness and, e.g., relate this to socioeconomic status, but the architect might relate it to square footage of housing and aspects of design. An overlap might look at the problems of lonely people in making eye contact. This led them to look at issues of visibility in relation to establishing connectivity. The study of air and sound quality in relation to stress could be a possible locus for work with neuroscientists, assessing foveal versus peripheral version, what vs where. They used isovist to understand visual connectivity in relation to San Diego’s airport, linking spatial organization to stress in moving through that environment. They also study how ambient sound affects stress levels at an intersection. Complementing field studies, they structure spaces in VR to support experiments, accelerate design evaluation, allow sensory immersion, and combine biometric technology, real-time iteration, and even multiplayer experiments.

Guvenc Ozel was asked about differential effects of physical reality, augmented reality (AR) and VR. He reported that he found head-mounted displays useless for experiences beyond placing a single object in AR. They don’t work for large scale spaces and environments. He also reported that it is hard to get VR displays that properly match the human visual system. VR is still in its infancy, but one can already design new experiences that people can immerse themselves in, despite their departure from normal patterns of experience.

Dane Clemensonreported on an imaginative use of VR – using game players’ immersion in video games to study navigation. He had worked with Rusty Gage on environmental enrichment and its impact on hippocampus measured in animals, but now he seeks to use these insights in studying humans. He studies what we can learn from VR and how this relates to brain activity when navigating in the real world. His subjects play Minecraft, a video game which is built around complex open “worlds.” Success in such gaming requires good spatial awareness, as in navigating through a city. More on this in the fourth post.

References

Pribram, K. H. (1960). A review of theory in physiological psychology. Annual Rev. Psychol., 11(1-40).

Siddharth, Patel, A. N., Jung, T.-P., & Sejnowski, T. J. (2018). A Wearable Multi-modal Bio-sensing System Towards Real-world Applications. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, 66(4), 1137-1147.

About Michael A. Arbib

Michael Arbib is a pioneer in the study of computational models of brain mechanisms, especially those linking vision and action, and their application to artificial intelligence and robotics. Currently his two main projects are “how the brain got language” through biological and cultural evolution as inferred from data from comparative (neuro)primatology, and the conversation between neuroscience and architecture. He serves as Coordinator of ANFA’s Advisory Council and is currently Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of California at San Diego and a Contributing Faculty Member in Architecture at NewSchool of Architecture and Design. The author or editor of more than 40 books, Arbib is currently at work on When Brains Meet Buildings, integrating exposition of relevant neuroscience with discussions of the experience of architecture, the design of architecture, and neuromorphic architecture.

References

Pribram, K. H. (1960). A review of theory in physiological psychology. Annual Rev. Psychol., 11(1-40).

Siddharth, Patel, A. N., Jung, T.-P., & Sejnowski, T. J. (2018). A Wearable Multi-modal Bio-sensing System Towards Real-world Applications. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, 66(4), 1137-1147.

About Michael A. Arbib

Michael Arbib is a pioneer in the study of computational models of brain mechanisms, especially those linking vision and action, and their application to artificial intelligence and robotics. Currently his two main projects are “how the brain got language” through biological and cultural evolution as inferred from data from comparative (neuro)primatology, and the conversation between neuroscience and architecture. He serves as Coordinator of ANFA’s Advisory Council and is currently Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of California at San Diego and a Contributing Faculty Member in Architecture at NewSchool of Architecture and Design. The author or editor of more than 40 books, Arbib is currently at work on When Brains Meet Buildings, integrating exposition of relevant neuroscience with discussions of the experience of architecture, the design of architecture, and neuromorphic architecture.

2019-12-30T22:19:18+00:00