Probing emotional responses to living spaces

Majid Al Futtaim

August 26, 2019

Understanding the brain on architecture

Majid Al Futtaim is an Emirati company that is based in Dubai, which owns and operates shopping malls, retail, and leisure establishments in the Middle East and North Africa. To better understand how they can serve their customers and clients in making good spaces to live, work and reside, they were interested in probing the subconscious mind using neuroscience. After all, studies have long shown that self-reported measures are a poor guide for what people actually feel, think and choose.

While neuromarketing and consumer neuroscience studies have long been used to test consumer behaviors such as ad responses, in-store choice, and product responses, few studies have done the same for architectural experiences. But recently, and driven by pioneering work by Neurons Inc (e.g., our team in Latin America has done this since 2016), the study of emotional and cognitive responses to architectural experiences are now possible areas of research.

"The study helps us identify crucial elements that make for happy, healthy communities and become the foundation for how we bring our integrated retail, leisure and entertainment offering to design mixed-use destinations that drive holistic value for residents and surrounding communities."
- Hawazen Esber, chief executive officer of Majid Al Futtaim Communities

How the study was conducted

In this study, we recruited 31 participants (age range 25-43, mixed gender) in the United Arab Emirates to be exposed to different imagery and concepts that represented living spaces. What we were interested in, was to better understand how people responded to different types of living spaces, as indexed by what they paid attention to and how they responded emotionally and cognitively. In addition, we assessed participants' associations to different living spaces.

Drivers of living space emotions

In the study, we identified several key elements that drove emotional engagement, such as:

  • human activity
  • greenery
  • artistic features
  • bright colors

Conversely, elements that drove immediate and lasting negative emotional responses included:

  • a lack of human interaction
  • no natural landscapes
  • dirt and damaged areas
An image of houses with a heatmap over it.


The broader picture: architecture and the brain

In recent years, it has become obvious that a majority of even complex human behaviors are driven by subconscious processes. Indeed, traditional methods are factually poor at capturing what people feel when they are viewing potential living spaces, office rooms, and other architectural areas. In light of this, the study performed for Majid Al Futtaim clearly shows how consumer neuroscience can help resolve deeper issues to identify which elements are important for ensuring optimal customer responses to living spaces.

"Historically, researchers and developers have focused on the conscious drivers of preference for real estate design and development. In a testament to the region’s progressive take on the transformation of the real estate sector, our unique neuroscience research study enables a deeper understanding of what subconsciously drives emotional value and a sense of belonging for our customers and the wider community."- Hawazen Esber, Chief Executive Officer of Majid Al Futtaim Communities

As we move forward to integrate architecture with new technologies such as VR and AR for showcasing potential living spaces, consumer neuroscience can be expected to play an even more important role in conjunction with more traditional research methods.

Further reading & learning

External resources for this study can be found here:

Neurons Inc CEO Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy interviews Juan Roberto Castro, who is the head of our Latin America office, on his expertise in NeuroArchitecture.