We invited four leading researchers to share insights from their time exploring the intersection of science, the brain, and the built environment. In the interviews excerpted below, we asked about indicators of good brain health from cognitive performance to emotional well-being and the methods and technologies used to assess how different environments influence the brain to those ends. We also asked how city dwellers can rethink their relationship to the places they live, work, and play in order to improve their brain health and quality of life.

Sandra Chapman 
Founder and Chief Director, Center for Brain Health, University of Texas at Dallas

Richard Davidson
Founder and Director, Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Frederick Marks, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Six Sigma Green Belt
President, Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, and Visiting Scholar, Salk Institute

John Medina
Professor of Bioengineering, University of Washington School of Medicine

Q: WHAT IS A “HEALTHY” BRAIN?

A healthy brain is one that allows us to thrive, not just to survive in our daily lives. It’s what allows us to make life decisions, solve problems, interact adeptly with others and really enjoy emotional balance. At the Center for Brain Health, we developed “pillars” of brain health that we measure. One is cognition, and when I say cognition, that’s not simply IQ: It’s really the ability to innovate, to synthesize. It’s what you’re trying to do right now [in this interview]: very quickly taking divergent ideas and boiling them down to the essence, looking for a takeaway point by strategically focusing on the most relevant information. It’s more than memory, more than speed of processing. It really is the ability to think and solve the problems that we’re faced with every day.

Courtesy Center for Brain Health – The University of Texas at Dallas

Another pillar is psychological well-being. If you’ve got some type of mental health disorder or you’re severely depressed, say frozen in bed, you have diminished brain health. Another area is the complexity of what you do—in other words, what is the level of productivity of what you’re doing. And another key area is socially adeptness. Being socially adept is probably one of the most important things to our cognition. It’s the most complex and most important.

 

Participants use EEG headsets to record the brain’s response to a range of environments, during a hands-on introduction to BCI technology and guided walk of Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood, with Van Alen Institute and Cloud Lab at Columbia University GSAPP. Photo by Zachary Tyler Newton

 

 

 

 

 

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Published on Van Alen Stories September 2019