This research directly assesses older people’s neural activation in response to a changing urban environment while walking, as measured by electroencephalography (EEG). The study builds on previous research that shows changes in cortical activity while moving through different urban settings. The current study extends this methodology to explore previously unstudied outcomes in older people aged 65 years or more (n = 95).

Participants were recruited to walk one of six scenarios pairing urban busy (a commercial street with traffic), urban quiet (a residential street) and urban green (a public park) spaces in a counterbalanced design, wearing a mobile Emotiv EEG headset to record real-time neural responses to place. Each walk lasted around 15 min and was undertaken at the pace of the participant. The article reports on the outputs for these responses derived from the Emotiv Affectiv Suite software, which creates emotional parameters (‘excitement’, ‘frustration’, ‘engagement’ and ‘meditation’) with a real time value assigned to them.

The six walking scenarios were compared using a form of high dimensional correlated component regression (CCR) on difference data, capturing the change between one setting and another. The results showed that levels of ‘engagement’ were higher in the urban green space compared to those of the urban busy and urban quiet spaces, whereas levels of ‘excitement’ were higher in the urban busy environment compared with those of the urban green space and quiet urban space. In both cases, this effect is shown regardless of the order of exposure to these different environments. These results suggest that there are neural signatures associated with the experience of different urban spaces which may reflect the older age of the sample as well as the condition of the spaces themselves. The urban green space appears to have a restorative effect on this group of older adults.

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