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Approved Research

Investigating associations between the physical environment and brain health, mental well-being and cognition

Principal Investigator: Professor Simone Kühn
Approved Research ID: 64615
Approval date: October 18th 2020

Lay summary

To what extent and how does the physical environment affect human beings? This overarching question drives our research. It is by now well known that the environment has a major impact on well-being, but the neural mechanisms of this relationship remain to be explored. Therefore, our goal is to unravel how the brain adapts to long-term exposure to certain aspects of the environment. In view of the multitude of environmental problems we are facing, such as climate change, elevated pollution, and destruction of habitats, a better understanding of the effects of the physical environment on the individual is urgently needed. Global urbanization processes with large population shifts from rural to urban areas are leading to a gradual increase in the proportion of people living in cities, with more than 55% of the world's population currently living in urban areas.

In order to understand how living environment affects brain structure, function as well as cognition and mental health we will associate characteristics around the home address (e.g. the amount of trees in the surrounding or air pollution in the neighborhood) with data from brain imaging and cognition, while accounting for common lifestyle factors that have been shown to affect the brain and cognition such as physical exercise habits, smoking, alcohol consumption, etc. By providing a better understanding and quantification of the relationship between the environment and the brain, we hope to influence the designing of physical environments in ways that will optimize well-being and cognitive functioning as well as human mental and physical health. This will in the long run hopefully inform urban planning and our own decisions in search of healthy living-environments.