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Using artificial ground color to promote a restorative sidewalk experience: an experimental study based on manipulated street view images

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Color is frequently used in urban outdoor spaces, but little research has studied its psychological effects. This study explores the influence of sidewalk floor color on the restorative walking experience in a busy, inner city street lacking natural greenery. We used an achromatic street view image with no vegetation or trees as control. Red, green, and blue were used as "artificial" intervention colors in the sidewalk ground plane to generate 3 visual stimuli. Participants (n=66) rated the perceived restorativeness of the scene and their subjective mood on viewing each image via an online survey. The results indicate "artificial" green ground color, e.g. provided by paint or colored material, promoted a more restorative walking experience enhancing hedonic tone and arousal and increased relaxation more than red ground color. All three color-interventions improved perceived restorativeness and arousal. This study advances the understanding of the psychological impact of color in urban design.
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Using artificial ground color to promote a restorative sidewalk
experience: an experimental study based on manipulated street
view images
Lanqing Gu1,*, Adamantia Batistatou2, Yvonne N. Delevoye-Turrell2, Jenny Roe3, Martin
Knöll1
1 Technical University of Darmstadt, Department of Architecture, Chair for Urban Design and Planning;
knoell@stadt.tu-darmstadt.de
2 Univ. Lille, UMR 9193 - SCALab - Sciences Cognitives et Sciences Affectives;
adamantia.batistatou@gmail.com; yvonne.delevoye@univ-lille.fr
3 Center for Design and Health, University of Virginia; jjr4b@virginia.edu
* Corresponding author: lanqing.gu@tu-darmstadt.de
Abstract
Color is frequently used in urban outdoor spaces, but little research has studied its psychological
effects. This study explores the influence of sidewalk floor color on the restorative walking experience
in a busy, inner city street lacking natural greenery. We used an achromatic street view image with no
vegetation or trees as control. Red, green, and blue were used as “artificial” intervention colors in the
sidewalk ground plane to generate 3 visual stimuli. Participants (n=66) rated the perceived
restorativeness of the scene and their subjective mood on viewing each image via an online survey.
The results indicate “artificial” green ground color, e.g. provided by paint or colored material,
promoted a more restorative walking experience enhancing hedonic tone and arousal and increased
relaxation more than red ground color. All three color-interventions improved perceived
restorativeness and arousal. This study advances the understanding of the psychological impact of
color in urban design.
Keywords: Urban design, psychology, walking environment, perceived restoration, ground color
INTRODUCTION
In the built environment, colors have been used in various situations and the psychological effects of
colors include effects on happiness, relaxation, and arousal (Güneş and Olguntürk 2020; Akers et al.
2012). However, most of these studies look at interior space; little research has focused on the
psychological effects of colors in outdoor urban environments.
Walking in a lacking-greenery urban environment with historical elements and various architectural
features can be restorative as walking in a natural environment (Lindal and Hartig 2013; Karmanov
and Hamel 2008). Restorative environments are the settings that facilitate recovery from mental
fatigue or stress and elicit positive affective states. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) (Kaplan 1992)
posits the 4 properties of a restorative environment: being away (being mentally away from daily
routine which leads to mental fatigue), fascination (being attracted by fascinating stimuli in
environment that employ our involuntary attention), extent (the environment is large enough to form
“a whole different world”) and compatibility (the actions required by the environment fit with an
individual’s inclinations). Being away and fascination were selected to be the metrics in this study.
Sidewalk ground surface plays an important role in the walking experience, as it has the direct,
tactile contact with users and its features could affect user’s perception and behavior (Van
Cauwenberg et al. 2016). However, no study has explored the effects of sidewalk ground color on
mental wellbeing even colors have been extensively applied in transport projects to demark zones and
convey information. We argue that there is a need to pay more attention to using color intervention
(e.g., applying paint) in urban design to improve place quality, as it is more economical, feasible, and
effective compared to other design approaches (e.g., urban vegetation).
Using artificial ground color to promote a restorative sidewalk experience: an experimental study based on manipulated
street view images
AIC 14th Congress Milano 2021 - August 30thSeptember 3rd 2021
In this study, we aim to use manipulated street view images to examine sidewalk ground color’s
effect on perceived restorativeness and affective wellbeing in an urban street scene lacking natural
greenery. We tested the effects of red, green, and blue, which are most frequently applied in color
psychology research. In previous studies, red increases arousal (Wilms and Oberfeld 2018), while green
and blue are linked with positive emotional states such as hedonic tone (e.g., increased relaxation and
happiness) (Bellizzi and Hite 1992; Wexner 1954). Based on these findings, we developed the following
hypotheses for this study:
H1: Green sidewalk ground color is associated with a higher perceived restorativeness compared to
other colors.
H2: Red sidewalk ground color is associated with higher arousal compared to blue, green and control
(achromatic) color conditions.
H3: Green and blue sidewalk ground colors are associated with increased hedonic tone compared
to red.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Participants
All the participants were enrolled by online recruitment advertisement. In total, 66 participants
completed the survey. Among them, 42 were females. The mean age was 26 (SD=4.6). All data
collected were anonymous.
Stimuli
We used manipulated street view images to simulate a walking environment. The street view was
selected from Rheinstrasse, Darmstadt, an inner-city arterial street including 4 lanes for cars, a tram
and bus corridor in the center, green buffers, and cycle and pedestrian infrastructure. It would, in our
view, best represent Rheinstrasse as a typical arterial street in a medium sized European city. The
street view photo was taken on an overcast winter day. Then, we used the image with major greenery
removed as the control condition. Following this, we edited the sidewalk ground color by Photoshop
with red (255, 0, 0), green (0, 128, 0), and blue (0, 0, 255), which are additive primary colors in the RGB
color model. The intervention design was following the results from a visual realism test among 12
participants: the ground was covered by 40% transparency color with a white outline to demark the
zone. Finally, 4 images were included for the study: control, red, green, and blue (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Control condition and red, green, and blue sidewalk ground color interventions.
Measurements
Subjective mood states measures comprised hedonic tone, arousal, and relaxation. The mood
assessments were conducted before exposure to image stimuli and after watching each image to
measure mood change. The statement for each mood item was rated on a 9-point Likert scale (from 1
= “extremely disagree to 9 = “extremely agree”). The three statements were: Hedonic tone: “I feel
happy”; Arousal: “I feel energetic”; Relaxation: “I feel calm”.
Using artificial ground color to promote a restorative sidewalk experience: an experimental study based on manipulated
street view images
AIC 14th Congress Milano 2021 - August 30thSeptember 3rd 2021
Perceived restorativeness is measured by the Perceived Restorativeness Scale short version (PRS
scale) (Berto 2005). Two statements corresponding to fascinationand being away, which are two
restorative properties of the environment in ART, were rated on a 9-point Likert scale (from 1 =
“extremely disagree” to 9 = “extremely agree”). The statements were re-edited for the walking context
(Fascination: “This place is fascinating and it is hard to be bored”; Being away: “Spending time here
gives me a break from my day-to-day routine”).
Procedure
All participants were required to do the online survey with a computer screen. They were first asked
to standardize the screen settings regarding color, gamma, brightness, and contrast. After this, they
did an online color blind test and the participants who did not pass it were excluded from the study.
Then, the participants assessed their subjective mood state to create the baseline. Following this, the
participants were shown 4 street view images in randomized order. They were asked to watch each
image for at least 10 seconds to immerse themselves in the environment and then rate the street view
image on perceived restorativeness and subjective mood state. Finally, they were asked to provide
information about gender, age, and familiarity with Rheinstrasse.
RESULTS
Mood change scores were obtained by subtracting baseline score from post test score after viewing
each image. A series of repeated measures ANOVA were used to identify significant differences in
mood change scores and PRS ratings between intervention conditions. Partial eta squared was used to
present effect sizes for each comparison. Mauchly’s W test of sphericity was significant in the hedonic
tone, fascination and being away conditions, and sphericity is assumed in other conditions. The
Greenhouse Geisser correction was used to report adjusted degrees of freedom for the hedonic tone,
fascination and being away outcomes. We used an alpha level of .05 for all statistical tests.
Figure 2: Hedonic tone change (a), arousal change (b) and relaxation change (c) per intervention. Error bars are
shown (95% confidence intervals). A bar below zero denotes negative change and a bar above zero positive
change. A higher score in hedonic tone indicates more perceived happiness; a higher score in arousal indicates
more perceived energy; a higher score in relaxation indicates less perceived stress.
Mood change
Hedonic tone change
A repeated measures ANOVA showed a statistically significant difference in hedonic tone change
between the red, green, blue and control sidewalk ground color interventions, F(2.550, 163.174) =
9.714, p < .001, ηp2 = .132. The Bonferroni correction confirmed that the red and green sidewalk ground
color interventions increased hedonic tone as compared to the control condition (p < .001). The green
Using artificial ground color to promote a restorative sidewalk experience: an experimental study based on manipulated
street view images
AIC 14th Congress Milano 2021 - August 30thSeptember 3rd 2021
sidewalk ground color intervention enhanced hedonic tone as compared to blue (p = .008). No
significant differences were found between the other conditions (Figure 2a and Table 1).
Arousal change
There was a statistically significant difference in arousal change between the stimuli, F(3, 192) =
25.361, p < .001, ηp2 = .284. The Bonferroni correction shows confirmed that the red, green, and blue
sidewalk ground color interventions enhanced arousal as compared to the control condition (p < .001,
p < .001, and p = .021, respectively). The red and green interventions increased arousal when compared
to the blue intervention (p < .001 and p = .005, respectively). No significant differences were found
between the red and green interventions (Figure 2b and Table 1).
Relaxation change
There was a statistically significant difference in relaxation change between the stimuli, F(3, 192) =
7.348, p < .001, ηp2 = .103. The Bonferroni correction confirmed the red sidewalk ground color
intervention decreased relaxation as compared to the control condition and green sidewalk ground
color intervention (p = .033, and p < .001, respectively). No significant differences were found between
the other conditions (Figure 2c and Table 1).
M (SD)
Intervention
Hedonic tone
Arousal
Relaxation
Pre intervention
6.3 (2.33)
5.6 (3.1)
6.8 (2.7)
Post control
3.3 (2.7)
3.2 (2.8)
4.2 (5.0)
Post red
4.3 (3.5)
5.2 (4.2)
3.3 (3.7)
Post green
4.7 (3.2)
4.8 (3.2)
4.7 (4.1)
Post blue
3.8 (3.6)
4.0 (3.5)
4.0 (4.4)
Table 1: Mean value with standard deviations (SD) in subjective mood state assessment pre and post stimuli.
Figure 3: Mean rating scores of fascination (a) and being away (b) per intervention. Error bars are shown (95%
confidence intervals). A higher score denotes higher perceived fascination and sense of being away.
Perceived Restorativeness
Fascination
There was a statistically significant difference in perceived fascination between the stimuli, F(2.647,
169.377) = 34.128, p < .001, ηp2 = .348. The Bonferroni correction showed that all ground color
Using artificial ground color to promote a restorative sidewalk experience: an experimental study based on manipulated
street view images
AIC 14th Congress Milano 2021 - August 30thSeptember 3rd 2021
interventions were perceived as more fascinating than the control condition (p < .001). The differences
between the other conditions were not significant (Figure 3a).
Being away
There was a statistically significant difference in perceived being away between the stimuli, F(2.619,
167.600) = 20.652, p < .001, ηp2 = .244. The Bonferroni correction showed that all ground color
interventions were perceived as more being away than the control condition (p < .001). The green
sidewalk ground color intervention was perceived as more being away than blue (p = .021). The
differences between the other conditions were not significant (Figure 3b).
DISCUSSION
Our findings are generally consistent with previous literature findings as well as our hypotheses. Firstly,
our results confirmed the positive effects of green color on psychological responses: the green
sidewalk ground color intervention enhanced the perceived restorativeness of the street environment
(i.e., being away and fascination) when compared to the control condition. The green intervention
scored higher in hedonic tone and arousal as compared to the blue intervention and improved
relaxation as compared to the red intervention. These findings are in line with H1 and partly with H3
and consistent with previous studies on the association between green color and positive emotions
(Kaya and Epps 2004). Secondly, we observed the red sidewalk ground color enhanced energetic
arousal when compared to either the control condition or blue intervention, which is generally in line
with H2, reaffirming the association of red environment with high arousal (Wilms and Oberfeld 2018).
To our knowledge, these findings are for the first time shown with stimuli displaying urban street
environment.
We also found that all the color interventions increased perceived restorativeness and arousal as
compared to the control condition. The findings implicate that ground color interventions such as paint
and colored surface material can enhance restorative quality, especially those lacking greenery,
architectural variation, and cultural heritage. For arousal, green and red increased arousal more than
blue, but no significant difference between green and red was found in this study, while some research
show that red is associated with higher arousal, followed by green (Wilms and Oberfeld 2018). But our
study embedded color in a real urban environment, while most studies on color and emotion used
color stimuli without connections to reality (Kueller and Mikellides 1993) or in interior spaces. This
finding suggests that psychological effects of color may vary with experiment scenes.
We observed that color interventions caused negative change on subjective mood states compared
to that measured in a baseline test, which is different from previous studies. In this study, two-thirds
of the participants had been to the selected street Rheinstrasse, which is an inner-city arterial street
in Darmstadt with a high traffic flow and noise. Traffic has been shown to be a negative element that
decreases place quality related to mental wellbeing (Bornioli et al. 2018). Participants might associate
their real walking experience when rating, which leads to negative affective changes. Despite the visual
realism test, such large area monochromatic interventions are not common in urban environments,
and we speculate that visual stimuli beyond daily experience may lead to negative mood changes. In
addition, blue was not found to be associated with increased hedonic tone but slightly increased
energetic arousal. These findings again suggest that the psychological responses to color embedded in
a real environment will be different from those produced by color stimuli alone.
CONCLUSION
Using artificial ground color to promote a restorative sidewalk experience: an experimental study based on manipulated
street view images
AIC 14th Congress Milano 2021 - August 30thSeptember 3rd 2021
This study reveals that in the urban street setting lacking greenery, green sidewalk color contributed
to a more restorative walking experience and enhanced hedonic tone and energetic arousal. It also
increased relaxation more than red. In addition, interventions with all three colors red, green, and
blue improved perceived restorativeness and arousal in a street that lacks natural greenery. The
green and red interventions enhanced energetic arousal more than the blue intervention.
The findings suggest that ground color interventions have the potential to be a further effective
means of optimizing urban environmental qualities related to mental wellbeing, in addition to inserting
much-needed natural green, as a complementing, cost-effective, and temporary response to streets
that lack trees. The study provides a preliminary empirical basis for future urban outdoor space design.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This study is funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). Project number 437818133.
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