Whether you’re a teacher, counselor, manager, doctor or someone who just loves to entertain, creating the ideal environment for social exchange is likely of great importance to you.
Many of us are already aware that the physical environment can affect our comfort level and how we relate to each another. A simple change to the décor of a room can make a major difference in communication. But what are the specific features of a room that might influence the social atmosphere? The list below outlines a few of them.
Colour has often been shown to have a strong effect on mood and psychological well-being and can change the very essence of a room. However, colour preferences and colour-emotion associations tend to be very subjective and often vary across gender and age groups. In general, though, most persons seem to associate positive emotions such as happiness, excitement and relaxation with bright colours, including yellow, blue, green and orange. [showmyads]
On the other hand, darker colours such as black and grey tend to evoke negative feelings, such as anxiety, boredom and sadness (Manav, 2006). In a study which examined the colour-emotion associations of undergraduates, blue was found to be the favourite colour of both sexes (Hemphill, 1996). Green was the second favourite colour of participants in Hemphill’s (1996) study and has been associated with confidence, relaxation and comfort (Manav, 2006). Across various studies, the colour yellow has been associated with enjoyment, hope, wisdom, happiness and warmth (eg. Manav, 2006).
Accessories (Furniture, Lighting, Artwork)
Adding the right accessories to a room can help to put your guests or clients at ease, thereby fostering more meaningful conversations and greater self-disclosure. An early study by Chaikin, Derlega and Miller (1976) was conducted to examine the effect of room environment on people’s comfort level and willingness to self-disclose. Fifty two students (26 males and 26 females) from an undergraduate psychology course served as participants. Each participant was interviewed by a ‘counselor’, with half of the interviews being conducted in a ‘warm’ room (pictures on the wall, cushioned chair, rug on the floor, soft lighting) and the other half in a ‘cold’ room (bare, cement block walls, straight back chair, fluorescent lighting,).
Participants were asked questions ranging from low to high in intimacy and were also asked to talk about an issue they would like to discuss if they were having a real interview with a counselor. At the end of the interview, each participant was asked to rate the intimacy and warmth of the room as well as his/her degree of relaxation. Participants in the ‘warm’ room rated it as more intimate than the bare room and reported a higher degree of relaxation than participants in the other condition. After controlling for experimenter bias, results also showed that participants self-disclosed at a significantly higher level in the ‘warm’ room than in the ‘cold’ surroundings.
Thinking of adding a plant, aquarium or small fountain to your living room or office? Go right ahead! You could even throw in a painting of Mother Nature while you’re at it. A new study by the University of Rochester suggests that nature makes people more people-oriented, caring and generous and therefore has not only personal, but social benefits as well. According to a report by the University of Rochester (2012), the study involved experiments with 370 participants who were exposed to either natural or man-made settings and then asked to rate the importance of several life-aspirations.
Persons who were exposed to natural settings placed greater value on having deep, enduring relationships and on working toward the betterment of society than persons who were exposed to man-made settings. The incorporation of nature into the décor of a room may therefore foster greater social exchange by making persons more interested in connecting with others. Nature might also lend a friendlier atmosphere to a room by making people more relaxed and comfortable. Indeed, research suggests that nature can have a therapeutic effect on individuals. Ulrich’s (1999, cited in Ulrich & Zimring, 2004) study, for example, produced strong evidence that even brief encounters with nature settings, whether real or simulated, can result in significant recovery from stress within three to five minutes at most. Nature can also result in other positive psychological effects, such as reducing fear and anxiety and increasing one’s sense of well-being.
Chaikin, A. L, Derlega, V. J., & Miller, S. J. (1976). Effects of room environment on self-disclosure in a counseling analogue. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 23(5), 479-481. Retrieved April 11, 2007, from PsycARTICLES Database.
Hemphill, M. (1996). A note on adults’ color-emotion associations. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 157(3), 275-280. Retrieved April 14, 2007, from EBSCOhost Database.
Manav, B. (2006). Color-emotion associations and color preferences: A case study for residences. Colour Research and Application, 32(2)144-150. Retrieved April 14, 2007, from Wiley Interscience Database.
Ulrich, R., & Zimring, C. (2004). The role of the physical environment in the hospital of the 21st century: A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Retrieved April 9, 2007, from http://www.rwjf.org/files/publications/other/RoleofthePhysicalEnvironment.pdf
Univeristy of Rochester. (2012). Nature makes us more caring, study says. Retrieved March 17, 2012, from http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3450
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