Imagine that 20 trees appeared on your street overnight. How would your life change? Would you be more relaxed? More productive? Would you get sick less often?
Imagine living in a city on a major shopping street vs. a high-rise downtown street vs. a quiet side street. Which home would be the least stressful? Which would provide the most social opportunities? Which would encourage the most exercise?
Elements of the physical environment are always changing – our planet is experiencing climate change, leading to increasingly hot and variable temperatures. The number of people living in cities continues to increase, with more migration from rural environments to urban ones. How do our brains adapt to these changes? How do these alterations in our environment change our behavior?
Our lab studies how the physical environment directly affects our brains and our behavior. While the organized activity of billions of neurons in our brains gives rise to our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, this doesn’t occur in a vacuum. To achieve a fuller understanding of how the brain works, we believe it is vital to understand how the physical environment impacts our behavior, as our neural machinery is constantly adapting to and being shaped by our environment. As human beings we have an incredible amount of control over our environment, but we are often unaware of the powerful and complex ways that the environment can directly affect us… for better or for worse.
With a better understanding and quantification of the relationships between our brains and the environment, we hope that our research will help to achieve more breakthroughs for understanding how brains work. In addition, we hope our research can influence the design of physical environments broadly, from homes to buildings to parks to even cities and beyond – in ways that will optimize human mental health, physical health, and overall well-being.
Why are we starting a blog?
This blog will provide an informal setting for me and my students to discuss our research and our ideas, and to explain some of the tools that we are using to quantify the environment and its relationship to brain function. I hope that this space becomes a place where people interested in environmental neuroscience can discuss and innovate new ideas.
What do we mean exactly by environmental neuroscience?
As environmental neuroscientists, we study the interactions of brain functioning, individual behavior, group behavior, and the external physical environment and how those interactions vary over space and time. We define environmental neuroscience as the scientific study of brain-mediated, bidirectional relationships between organisms and their social and physical environments. While we primarily focus on humans, we also perform some research on non-human animals.
Thanks for reading and feel free to take a look at our publications and/or suggest a topic that you think would be fun to explore.
Marc G. Berman, Ph.D.
Director of the Environmental Neuroscience Lab