Summer 2017: ReTUNE (Restoring Through Urban Nature Experience)

ReTUNE enhances urbanites well-being through their daily pedestrian experience.
Marc Berman

Marc Berman, Assistant Professor of Psychology, The University of Chicago; Fellow, Computation Institute; Member, Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology and Human Behavior

Kathryn Schertz

Kathryn Schertz, Student, Department of Psychology

What’s ReTUNE?

The Problem

While urban living has many advantages, it is also associated with increased stress, worse physical and mental health, and life expectancy. These negative effects alter physiology, brains, and behavior. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) offers an intervention to counteract some of the negatives of urban life by taking advantage of natural elements that are still present within built environments. According to ART, top-down directed attention is fatigable, but in natural environments, where attention is captured by softly fascinating environmental features, top-down mechanisms of attentional control are rested, leading to improvements in memory, attention, and affect. By maximizing exposure to natural elements while walking through urban environments, city residents can get the benefits of nature exposure while completing their daily errands. The proposed app also could be used as a tool to help people explore other communities/areas in the city on foot while experiencing the benefits of the natural environment. Additionally, the app could help urban planners identify locations within the city that can benefit most from added green space.

A Solution

Current mapping technologies generate walking directions based on time and distance to a location. We propose to develop an app that allows people to generate walking directions to a location based on the naturalness qualities of the route. Auditory and visual features would be used to generate a naturalness score. In addition to the naturalness score, length of walk, number of road crossings, and safety of the neighborhood will also be examined to rate each walk for a “Restoration Score.”

The user will be able to input the maximum length of walk over the direct route that they are willing to walk. To generate a loop walk with restorative qualities, users can input their current location as the destination and a desired length of walk. The app will generate several walk options based on the area and user inputs. Users could take pictures, record video, and record sounds from the walk that could be saved with the walk file. At the end of the walk, users could rate and/or review the route which could be taken into account for recommending future routes. They would have the option for a simple one to five star rating or a full review in which they answer questions about the different factors that contributed to our restorative score.

About Marc and Kate

Marc received his B.S.E. in Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) from the University of Michigan, and his Ph.D. in Psychology and IOE from the University of Michigan. Understanding the relationship between individual psychological and neural processing and environmental factors lies at the heart of his research. His lab utilizes brain imaging, behavioral experimentation, computational neuroscience and statistical models to quantify the person, the environment, and their interactions.

Kate is a graduate student in the Integrative Neuroscience program working with Dr. Marc Berman. She received her B.A. in Cognitive Science from the University of Pennsylvania. Before starting the graduate program, Kate worked as the lab manager for the Environmental Neuroscience Lab at the University of Chicago. Kate is broadly interested in how one’s physical environment affects physical and mental health, with a focus on the different influences of natural and built environments on attention and fatigue. She is also interested in the differences between wilderness and urban greenspace, and how elements from nature can be integrated into the built environment for cognitive benefits.

How does the App Challenge help with this great idea?

App Challenge developers will be exploring how Dr. Berman’s environmental data of Chicago can be used to suggest an optimally “natural” route between two locations.

How does this support UChicago's research mission?

ReTUNE will be a form of public outreach and teach people about the benefits of urban greenspace while contributing to their well-being in a practical way. By having the app collect feedback after a walk, we can learn more about how people perceive the restorative qualities of their environment. We will integrate our previous research with these new data to increase our understanding of the impacts the physical environment has on physical and mental health.

ReTUNE also supports the goals of the new Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation and the Urban Initiative at UChicago.