Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Discomfort from urban scenes: metabolic consequences

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle



An T. D. Le, Jasmine Payne, Charlotte Clarke, Kelly A. Murphy, Francesca Prudenziati, Elise Armsby, Olivier Penacchio, Arnold J. Wilkins

School/Research organisations


Scenes from nature share in common certain statistical properties. Images with these properties can be processed efficiently by the human brain. Patterns with unnatural statistical properties are uncomfortable to look at, and are processed inefficiently, according to computational models of the visual cortex. Consistent with such putative computational inefficiency, uncomfortable images have been demonstrated to elicit a large haemodynamic response in the visual cortex, particularly so in individuals who are predisposed to discomfort. In a succession of five small-scale studies, we show that these considerations may be important in the design of the modern urban environment. In two studies we show that images from the urban environment are uncomfortable to the extent that their statistical properties depart from those of scenes from nature. In a third study we measure the haemodynamic response to images of buildings computed as having unnatural or natural statistical properties, and show that in posterior brain regions the images with unnatural statistical properties (often judged uncomfortable) elicit a haemodynamic response that is larger than for images with more natural properties. In two further studies we show that judgments of discomfort from real scenes (both shrubbery and buildings) are similar to those from images of the scenes. We conclude that the unnatural scenes in the modern urban environment are sometimes uncomfortable and place excessive demands on the neural computation involved in vision, with consequences for brain metabolism, and possibly also for health.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-68
Number of pages7
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
Early online date31 Dec 2016
StatePublished - Apr 2017

    Research areas

  • Visual discomfort, Architecture, Haemodynamic response, Metabolism

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. Is countershading camouflage robust to lighting change due to weather?

    Penacchio, O., Lovell, P. G. & Harris, J. M. 7 Feb 2018 In : Royal Society Open Science. 5, 170801

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  2. Establishing the behavioural limits for countershaded camouflage

    Penacchio, O., Harris, J. & Lovell, P. G. 20 Oct 2017 In : Scientific Reports. 7, 13672

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  3. Optimizing countershading camouflage

    Cuthill, I., Sanghera, S., Penacchio, O., Lovell, P. G., Ruxton, G. D. & Harris, J. 15 Nov 2016 In : Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 113, 46, p. 13093-13097 5 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  4. Does countershading contribute to visual camouflage by concealing 3D shape?

    Penacchio, O., Lovell, P. G., Sanghera, S., Cuthill, I. C., Ruxton, G. D. & Harris, J. M. Mar 2016 In : Perception. 45, 3, p. 357-357 1 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewAbstract

  5. Does countershading impede efficient visual search?

    Penacchio, O., Lovell, P. G., Sanghera, S., Cuthill, I. C., Ruxton, G. D. & Harris, J. M. 2016 In : i-Perception. 7, 1, 1 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewAbstract

Related by journal

  1. The value of public rights of way: A choice experiment in Bedfordshire, England

    Morris, J., Colombo, S., Angus, A., Stacey, K., Parsons, D., Brawn, M. & Hanley, N. 30 Oct 2009 In : Landscape and Urban Planning. 93, 1, p. 83-91 9 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

ID: 248202521