Smart design: boosting brainpower in higher education

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First established in the 1950’s, the field of environmental psychology blossomed; teaching us that room design does much more than give us somewhere pretty to be. Since then, we’ve discovered that design impacts upon our health and wellbeing, how we feel and yes, even how we perform.

Take these pointers into account to help maximise academic performance in your environment:

Ceiling height
Believe it or not, ceiling height affects the way you process information. Meyers-Levy (2007) found that higher ceilings encourage people to think more freely, whereas lower ceilings inspire a more detailed, statistical outlook. So, where high ceilings may be a better option for artists, for example, lower ceilings would be ideal for subjects such as mathematics.

We know that changing ceiling height isn’t a simple task, but there are easy ways around that. Using mirrors and light-coloured paint will give the illusion of more space and higher ceilings, whilst darker colours will bring the ceiling in.

Natural views and light
Views of natural settings, such as gardens, improve focus. Although it might not be possible to incorporate more windows into a room, plants or even paintings or photos of natural scenes will do the trick.

However, where it is possible to put more windows in, do it. Natural light synchronises our sleep-wake cycle; encouraging alertness during the day and better sleep at night - thus boosting our productivity levels. In 1999, the Heschong Mahone Group found sunlight to improve student scores, with students in the sunniest classroom advancing 26% faster in reading and 20% faster in maths in one year than did those with the least daylight in their classrooms. 

If windows aren’t an option, researchers recommend using LEDs and full-spectrum fluorescent lights in buildings during the day, as both have enough blue light to trigger the circadian system and keep occupants alert.

A relaxing setting
Whilst bright light boosts cognition, low-level lighting increases relaxation and openness which are more desirable outcome in certain settings, such as counselling.

Furniture choices can also encourage relaxation, with neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School claiming that furniture with rounded edges puts subjects at ease whereas sharp edges have the opposite effect. 

Boosting socialisation
If you’re wanting to encourage students to collaborate, share ideas and bounce off each other, organising furniture in small groupings around the room will help. A 1999 study by psychologists in Germany and Sweden found that arranging seating in a semicircle around the tutor increased student participation, boosting the number of questions students asked. 

In 2000, a study found carpeting to boost social interaction; ideal for meeting rooms and study rooms when participation is key. Conversely, hard flooring such as wood and laminate encourages independent working and boosts focus, making it more suited to areas such as the library and lecture theatres.

Attiro by Kingspan offer convenient raised access flooring in a wide range of shades and finishes to suit any setting; ideal for universities and colleges. 

You can read more about any of the topics above, here.

If you’d like to speak to one of our team regarding a fit-out please contact us here

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