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about my research

I am interested in how architecture affects quality of life issues especially in low income housing and prisons. I am currently pursuing studies in neuroscience research that examine the effect of architecture on human experience and cognition.

research interests

“The Architect should be equipped with knowledge of many branches of study and varied kinds of learning for it is by his judgment that all work done by the arts is put to the test. This knowledge is the child of practice and theory.” – Vitruvius, The Ten Books of Architecture, 15 BCE

In the earliest existing writings on architecture, architects were regarded as inherently interdisciplinary. As an architect, I have taken that interdisciplinary ideal with me throughout my academic and research endeavors. Recently, I was highlighted as a hybrid psychologist working on the cutting edge of cross-disciplinary research between architecture and cognitive psychology in gradPSYCH Magazine (American Psychological Association)[1]. To address the question of how architecture affects human experience, the practice of architecture relies on tacit knowledge while psychology relies on codified knowledge. Through research in experimental psychology we can gain a rigorous understanding of how the built environment affects human behavior and cognition.

My research investigates how we think about, act upon, and understand space. Specifically, I study the cognitive mechanisms that underlie space perception and spatial cognition in select populations, such as individuals with visual impairments, and spatial experts, such as dancers and architects. I gather behavioral data using traditional psychometric tests, computer-based cognition tasks, perception-action measures, and self-report techniques. I apply my findings to psychological theory, architectural design, and pedagogy in both fields.

Visually Accessible Spaces: Visual accessibility is the use of vision and other aspects of spatial cognition to travel efficiently and safely through an environment, to perceive the spatial layout of key features, and to keep track of one’s location. I examine the problem of object and space perception in individuals with visual deficits, or low vision, who often do not rely on aids to orient and navigate. Instead, they depend on their remaining vision to get around. Although low vision is pervasive in the US, existing building codes do not adequately address the needs of this population. No differences in accuracy for distance judgments under normal and degraded vision conditions[2] suggest that low vision individuals rely on existing visual information in the built environment (i.e., the visible horizon, such as the floor/wall boundary in a room[3], and ground-contact information[4]) to make accurate space judgments. These findings are key in designing for diverse communities.

Individual Differences in Spatial Thinking: Spatial thinking is central to problem solving, decision making, navigating, and forming spatial representations. I investigate spatial cognition in spatial experts who have superior knowledge, skills, or characteristics related to spatial thinking. Although spatial experts demonstrate superior general spatial ability compared to controls, spatial ability is multidimensional and group differences exist in spatial ability between expert groups. For example, expert geoscientists demonstrate superior abilities in spatial perspective taking (i.e., mental transformation of one’s perspective relative to spatial forms), environmental space (i.e., large-scale space), and penetrative thinking (i.e., spatial reasoning about internal structures based on surface information), but not spatial visualization (i.e., small-scale space)[5]. Dancers show differences in performance on judgments of perceived action capabilities as well as superior kinesthetic imagery (i.e., simulating or mentally rehearsing motor movement), but not spatial perspective taking, spatial visualization, or environmental space abiliites[6]. Different mental spatial transformations require several types of cognitive processes, which are influenced by spatial ability and expertise[7]. Understanding the cognitive mechanisms that underlie spatial cognition in experts has broad theoretical implications for cognitive psychology as well as pedagogical implications for professional training.

I aim to explore the efficacy of training in the arts (specifically architecture, art, dance and design) on spatial thinking. Arts pedagogy is uniquely effective in training spatial thinking, thus successful training interventions can have overarching effects on career choices and achievement in activities that require spatial thinking. Spatial thinking is critical to success in the STEAM (i.e., science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) disciplines. For example, STEM discipline entry and retention is affected by spatial thinking ability, which disproportionately limits the accessibility of these fields to minorities and women. I use complementary approaches and convergent findings to understand the neural mechanisms involved in spatial tasks. For instance to understand whether spatial perspective taking is an embodied process, I investigate whether distinct neural patterns of activation for embodiment are seen in a task using an avatar but not an inanimate object[8]. My research addresses significant basic science questions that also have clear relevance to the education and practice of architecture. My unique interdisciplinary perspective is novel to experimental psychology, architecture, and spatial thinking, and has theoretical and pedagogical implications across disciplines.

1. Novotney, 2010; 2. Tarampi, Creem-Regehr, & Thompson, 2010; 3. Rand, Tarampi, Creem-Regehr, & Thompson, 2011; 4. Rand, Tarampi, Creem-Regehr, & Thompson, 2012; 5. Tarampi, Atit, Petcovic, Shipley, & Hegarty, 2016; 6. Tarampi, Geuss, Stefanucci, & Creem-Regehr, 2014; 7. Tarampi & Creem-Regehr, in prep; 8. Gagnon, Tarampi, & Creem-Regehr, in prep