Built environments can induce contemplative states, but direct evidence for their impact on the brain is lacking. This exploratory work investigated brain correlates of internal states elicited by architecture designed for contemplative experience. Functional MRI and self-reports of 12 architects were assessed to study their responses to photographs of ordinary and contemplative architectures. Images of contemplative buildings: (1) induced attentive, receptive, and absorbing experiences and diminished internal dialogue; (2) involved decreased engagement of prefrontal cortex; and (3) activated the occipital lobe, precentral gyrus, and inferior parietal lobule. They suggest that viewing buildings designed for contemplation may evoke experiential and brain signatures that consistently differ from those induced by buildings that serve everyday functions. The depth of such externally induced states was inversely correlated with the engagement of the Default Mode Network. Our study points toward a novel avenue for investigating how contemplation can be cultivated in the human brain/mind.

Authors1: Julio Bermudez a,David Krizaj b, David L. Lipschitz c, Charles Elliott Bueler d, Jadwiga Rogowska d, Deborah Yurgelun-Todd d, Yoshio Nakamurac

Keywords: Contemplation; Meditation; Architecture; Embodiment; Phenomenology; Neuroscience

Received 28 July 2016, Revised 8 February 2017, Accepted 10 February 2017, Available online 15 May 2017

  • 1. a School of Architecture and Planning, The Catholic University of America, 620 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20064, USA b Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy, School of Medicine, University of Utah, 65 Mario Capecchi Dr., Salt Lake City, UT 84132, USA c Utah Center for Exploring Mind-Body Interactions, Pain Research Center, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Utah, 615 Arapeen Drive, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84108, USA d Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, University of Utah, 383 Colorow Drive, Room 323, Salt Lake City, UT 84108, USA