My PhD is in cognitive neuroscience, however my research is transdisciplinary in nature. I am interested in weaving diverse disciplinary perspectives and methodologies to examine how cities influence health. This interest is inspired by my frontline clinical experience working as a mental health occupational therapist, prior to my doctoral work. While working with people with mental illnesses in urban centers, I was compelled to explore how our city, in its physical and social structures, impacts well-being. Here are a few projects I have been involved with. My CV can be found here.
Happy Streets Living Lab
In 2016, I was involved in a collaborative research project between the Urban Realities Lab, The Happy City Consultancy, The City of Vancouver, and Modus Planning, which aimed to examine how simple interventions, like green laneway activation, community gardens and the use of colour in urban spaces contributes to well-being. We took research participants on a walking tour in downtown Vancouver and used psychological and physiological measures to assess impacts of urban design on wellbeing, social connection and environmental stewardship. We found that the interventions had a significant effect on the measures of interest. You can read a report written for professionals and the general public here and the research article here. The experiment was covered in an article by the CBC.
Virtual Reality, 360º Video and Real World Research
I'm interested in how the built and natural environments in a city shape how we feel in function. Studying these aspects of the environment involves balancing experimental control and "realness". Psychologists refer to this tension as ecological validity; in the realm of urban neuroscience, this entails exposing research participants to optimally realistic urban environments while measuring their psychological and physiological responses, while ensuring other aspects of the city (like noise) don't affect these measurements. My PhD dissertation explored how being surrounded by skyscrapers can affect wellbeing. In the Summer of 2018 I partook in a fellowship at University College London in the Spiers Lab, headed by Dr. Hugo Spiers. During my time in London, I ran a study that brought people to a location in Central London populated by high rise buildings (picture above).
I also took 360º video of the location (GIF of video above) to then expose research participants to using immersive virtual reality. The study, which has been accepted, found that high-rise building had negative psychological impacts, but it also found that people responded similarly in real and virtual settings, which suggests that 360º video presented in VR can be used as an ecologically valid proxy to the real world. This study was presented at the Healthy City Design Conference in 2019 and was awarded the Research Innovation Award. A preprint of the study can be found here.
MOBILE Brain Imaging
As someone who rides a bike to travel through their city and someone who is an advocate for safer streets, I have a keen interest in using the tools of neuroscience to examine what is happening in our brain and body as we travel through different urban environments. In 2018, I collaborated with Dr. Kyle Mathewson (director of the APP Lab at the University of Alberta), Daniel Robles, and Jonathan Kuziak on a study that involved using a mobile EEG set up to examine what is happening in the brain as someone is riding their bike in different levels of infrastructure, from the open road to separated cycling infrastructure. Preliminary findings suggest infrastructure does have an effect.
The paper is currently being written up and I am excited to help share the findings, and to be contributing research to help inform empirical approaches to urban design that take human factors into account.