Student participant during a mobile EEG experiment, wearing an EEG headset and carrying a backpack with the recording equipment.

Neurourbanism is a newly interdisciplinary field of research focusing on the relationships between city life and mental wellbeing. Spanning neuroscience, architecture, urban planning, and sociology, the field aims to help understand the mental health challenges of city living, including stress, anxiety and depression which all appear to be increased in the city.

The Center is using mobile electroencephalography, or mobile EEG, to help unravel what happens in the brain as it navigates the city.  Mobile EEG – integrated with GPS – is a tool that allows us to see the brain at work as it moves through different spaces.  It allows us to understand how people feel within their environments, and, in turn, how their environments affect their emotions and behaviours.

Our MMP study found that older people felt a restorative effect of urban green space whilst becoming more excited (and stressed) in busy urban streets. In a pilot on UVa Grounds, we found similar patterns in students who experienced a restorative effect of the Lawn and adjacent gardens, as compared to the Corner, a busy university pedestrian and vehicular corridor, which caused higher levels of excitement.  

The Center – together with UVa’s School of Engineering - is pioneering these news kinds of tools and data analysis methods.  The tools have wider applications for understanding the cognitive mechanisms underlying urban navigation; the kinds of environments that encourage walking, or the wellbeing benefits of encountering public art in our cities, with implications for behaviour change, advocacy, design and policy to create better urban environments.