Psychological and neural responses to architectural interiors

Alexander Coburn, Oshin Vartanian, Yoed N. Kenett, Marcos Nadal, Franziska Hartung, Gregor Hayn-Leichsenring, Gorka Navarrete, José L. González-Mora, Anjan Chatterjee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People spend considerable time within built environments. In this study, we tested two hypotheses about the relationship between people and built environments. First, aesthetic responses to architectural interiors reduce to a few key psychological dimensions that are sensitive to design features. Second, these psychological dimensions evoke specific neural signatures. In Experiment 1, participants (n = 798) rated 200 images of architectural interiors on 16 aesthetic response measures. Using Psychometric Network Analysis (PNA) and Principal Components Analysis (PCA), we identified three components that explained 90% of the variance in ratings: coherence (ease with which one organizes and comprehends a scene), fascination (a scene's informational richness and generated interest), and hominess (extent to which a scene reflects a personal space). Whereas coherence and fascination are well-established dimensions in response to natural scenes and visual art, hominess emerged as a new dimension related to architectural interiors. In Experiment 2 (n = 614), the PCA results were replicated in an independent sample, indicating the robustness of these three dimensions. In Experiment 3, we reanalyzed data from an fMRI study in which participants (n = 18) made beauty judgments and approach-avoidance decisions when viewing the same images. Parametric analyses demonstrated that, regardless of task, the degree of fascination covaried with neural activity in the right lingual gyrus. In contrast, coherence covaried with neural activity in the left inferior occipital gyrus only when participants judged beauty, whereas hominess covaried with neural activity in the left cuneus only when they made approach-avoidance decisions. Importantly, this neural activation did not covary in relation to global image properties including self-similarity and complexity scores. These results suggest that the visual brain harbors sensitivities to psychological dimensions of coherence, fascination, and hominess in the context of architectural interiors. Furthermore, valuation of architectural processing in visual cortices varies by dimension and task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-241
Number of pages25
StatePublished - May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Aesthetics
  • Architecture
  • Environmental psychology
  • Hygge
  • fMRI

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Psychological and neural responses to architectural interiors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this