A Determinism and Desire: Some Neurological Processes in Perceiving the Design Object

By Jan Alexander Golembiewski.

Published by The International Journal of Design in Society

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

The environment moderates behaviour using a subtle language of ‘affordances’ and ‘behaviour-settings’. Affordances are environmental offerings. They are objects that demand action; a cliff demands a leap and binoculars demand a peek. Behaviour-settings are ‘places;’ spaces encoded with expectations and meanings. Behaviour-settings work the opposite way to affordances; they demand inhibition; an introspective demeanour in a church or when under surveillance. Most affordances and behaviour-settings are designed, and as such, designers are effectively predicting brain reactions. • Affordances are nested within, and moderated by behaviour-settings. Both trigger automatic neural responses (excitation and inhibition). These, for the best part cancel each other out. This balancing enables object recognition and allows choice about what action should be taken (if any). But when excitation exceeds inhibition, instinctive action will automatically commence. In positive circumstances this may mean laughter or a smile. In negative circumstances, fleeing, screaming or other panic responses are likely. People with poor frontal function, due to immaturity (childhood or developmental disorders) or due to hypofrontality (schizophrenia, brain damage or dementia) have a reduced capacity to balance excitatory and inhibitory impulses. For these people, environmental behavioural demands increase with the decline of frontal brain function. • The world around us is not only encoded with symbols and sensory information. Opportunities and restrictions work on a much more primal level. Person/space interactions constantly take place at a molecular scale. Every space we enter has its own special dynamic, where individualism vies for supremacy between the opposing forces of affordance-related excitation and the inhibition intrinsic to behaviour-settings. And in this context, even a small change–the installation of a CCTV camera can turn a circus to a prison. • This paper draws on cutting-edge neurological theory to understand the psychological determinates of the everyday experience of the designed environment.

Keywords: Architecture, Behaviour, Design, Environment, Impulses, Mental Illness, Neuroscience, Spectacularity

The International Journal of Design in Society, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp.23-36. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 893.860KB).

Dr. Jan Alexander Golembiewski

PhD Research Student, Faculty Board Member, Lecturer, Faculty of Architecture, Planning and Design, Schizophrenia Research Institute, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

In 2006, Jan was asked to co-design a state-of-the-art mental health facility for a government health service. Disappointed that little was known about the environmental needs for patients with psychiatric vulnerabilities, he returned to do a M.Arch. degree in design for mental health, and a PhD in the environmental factors of psychosis. He has a number of publications including an architectural guide to building in the aftermath of tsunamis and other natural disasters, another dealing with practical approaches to design for psychiatric care, and another on a salutogenic (health-supporting) method for decision making in emergency situations. Other papers on the neuroscience of perception are in review. Jan is a leading researcher in the environmental factors that erode or contribute to good mental health outcomes.