FEATURE23 February 2018

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Behavioural science Features Impact Leisure & Arts UK

A piece of research commissioned by the National Trust has reinforced the long-held view that special places can play an important role in people’s emotional and physical wellbeing, writes Katie McQuater.

River Stour at Flatford, Suffolk_crop

The National Trust worked with research agency Walnut Unlimited and academics from the University of Surrey to identify what place means to people – specifically, what happens to the brain when people are in places that have a special meaning to them.

The functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study measured how respondents’ brains reacted to places of significance. Complemented by qualitative and quantitative research, it reinforced the strong emotional responses places can generate. 

“This opens a window into the brain, allowing us to explore automatic emotional responses, scientifically demonstrating a tangible link between people and places that is often difficult to describe verbally, ” said Dr Andy Myers, director at Walnut Unlimited.

In the fMRI study, 20 people were shown three images, in no particular order:

  • of places and objects meaningful to them (that they had supplied before the study)
  • of everyday places and objects
  • from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) – a database of standardised positive and negative images ...