Brain activity, underlying mood and the environment: A systematic review
Michael Francis Norwood, Ali, Lakhani, Annick Maujean, Heidi Zeeman, Olivia Creux, Elizabeth Kendall
This review explores how different environments affect brain activity and associated mood response. MEDLINE, CINAHL, Web of Science, PsychInfo and EMBASE were searched for peer-reviewed literature published prior to February 2019. 26 sources were included and divided into either a laboratory (n = 17) or naturalistic (n = 9) design. Most (n = 16) compared natural environments against urban/non-natural environments. Natural environments were associated with low frequency brainwaves and lower brain activity in frontal areas, indicating comfortable and subjectively restorative feelings. Urban environments appear to induce brain responses associated with negative affect (demonstrated in an overactive amygdala region). Furthermore, urban environments were associated with activation of the posterior cingulate cortex associated with top-down processing/effortful attention. A sensory accumulation effect is suggested, where the realism of an experimental condition, and therefore validity of participant responses, is greater when more senses are engaged. Longitudinal research is needed to determine whether chronic exposure to environments can promote change in brain behaviour.