Small-town people often claim big city types are just a little, well, mean. A growing line of research in cognitive sciences is finding city environments with big rectangular buildings could be part of the problem.
In an article for New York Magazine, Jacoba Urist gathers multiple findings in research studies that suggest boring architecture, where every office and apartment building looks the same, causes environmental deprivation and emotional distress.
In one study, neuroscientist Colin Ellard had people walk by a long blank Whole Foods and then by a mixture of local markets, wearing bracelets that measured signs of excitement, like heart rate. Ellard concludes people described the Whole Foods as 'passionless' and physiologically appeared bored. They described the local market as lively and busy and physiologically showed signs of excitement.
Other studies have concluded that small doses of boredom actually cause stress and 'environmental deprivation' could be linked to the effects of ADHD. One study also found more interesting ( though not necessarily pretty) environments, made people kinder.
In 2014, Charles Montgomery’s Happy City lab conducted a Seattle experiment in which he found a strong correlation between messier blocks and pro-social behavior. Montgomery sent researchers, posing as lost tourists, to places he coded as either “active façades” — with a high level of visual interest — or “inactive façades” (like long warehouse blocks). Pedestrians at active sites were nearly five times more likely to offer help than at inactive ones. Of those who helped, seven times as many at the active site offered use of their phone; four times as many offered to lead the “lost tourist” to their destination.