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IBSA Foundation_The extended mind model
Catterina Seia11 Dec 20235 min read

The beauty of research opens up a whole world of opportunity. The extended mind.

Studies on mental states and cognitive processes have shown that the interplay between our mind and body and the natural and built environment affects our mental states. It can have a major impact on our mood and concentration. A well-designed environment, with natural light, relaxing colours and open spaces, may cultivate a positive mental state, enhancing our cognitive performance.  In the same way, our experiences and interactions with the built environment, such as exploring new places or taking part in cultural activities, may affect our cognitive processes and promote learning.

Exciting, cutting-edge possibilities arise from the intersection between architecture, neuroscience, psychology, urban planning, cognitive sciences or design studies.
This line of research explores the extended mind concept (extended mind thesis - EMT) in the context of designing human environments, investigating how an individual’s cognitive processes and mental states can extend beyond the boundaries of their brain and body, influencing and being influenced by the built environment.


It is an interdisciplinary field that has the potential to revolutionise how we design, experience and assess physical and virtual spaces, and how we interact with and shape our surroundings, leading to significant improvements in cognitive and relational processes and mental well-being.


Sensory architecture: investigating the relationship between emotions and space


As cultural economist Pier Luigi Sacco — who has set up a research team on the topic at the University of Chieti-Pescara — reminds us, as early as the 1930s, Austrian-American modernist architect Richard Neutra published Survival Through Design, based on his studies in physiological psychology. The book contains the findings of his work on the relationship between the design of houses and the states of anxiety of their occupants.


This paved the way for a discipline we now know as environmental psychology, which is concerned with understanding how humans interact with their physical surroundings, exploring their perceptions and behaviour as a result of this interaction, and the effects on their well-being. In recent decades, scholars like the Finnish architect Juhani Uolevi Pallasmaa — one of the most inspiring investigators of the complex relationship between architecture, art and life — have been advancing research at the intersection of neuroscience, embodiment and the future of architectural design, emphasising the importance of emotions and the multi-sensory experience, through materials and space, in shaping our relationship with the world.


This is one of the strands explored by Neuroscience Applied to Architectural Design (NAAD), the postgraduate course at the IUAV University of Venice, directed by Davide Ruzzon, member of the advisory board of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) in San Diego, established in 2003. NAAD makes sense of this turning point, positing that neuroscience contributes to harmonising the built environment with people’s basic needs and expectations, creating empathetic places that bring forth emotions.


Extended mind: beyond the boundaries of the brain in environmental design


The ‘extended mind’ concept was introduced in an article by philosophers Andy Clark and David John Chalmers, published in 1998 in Analysis. The authors postulated that by overcoming Cartesian dualism, cognitive processes and mental states can extend beyond the boundaries of an individual’s brain and body, into the physical and social environment where they live and work. They began their paper by asking themselves “Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?”, suggesting that the functions of the mind evolve in a fluid and interconnected manner, in a single flow integrated with external devices that can become an integral part of the cognitive processes.


Since then, a number of academics have reflected on this, using pedagogy as a starting point and thinking about how to design environments that can enhance the cognitive processes of their occupants, thereby fostering harmonious relationships between people and their surroundings. Knowledge production and consumption processes go beyond the body, into dialogue between systems. With the drive for digital innovation, this is a burning issue, as the mind’s functions are being broadened as a result of dynamically experiencing technological and cultural artefacts, which contribute to the construction of the person.


Call for Papers on the “Extended Mind and Design of Human Environments” 


University of Chieti-Pescara, is giving researchers, scholars and professionals from various scientific disciplines (including architecture, neuroscience, psychology, urban planning and economy, cognitive sciences and design, and more generally all disciplines concerned with the implications of the built environment for well-being) the opportunity to contribute to original research papers, case studies and theoretical explorations.
The call is edited by Massimo Angrilli, Alessandro Crociata and Luciana Mastrolonardo, coordinated by Prof. Pier Luigi Sacco.


The publication (click HERE for more information, manuscript summary submission by 31 December 2023 and manuscript submission by 31 March 2024) concerns a network of journals covering a wide range of specialisations, creating a platform for collaboration: Frontiers in Built Environment (Urban Science section), Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (Cognitive Neuroscience section), Frontiers in Public Health (Environmental Health and Exposome section), Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution (Urban Ecology section), Frontiers in Sociology (Urban Ecology section).


Topics of interest include but are not limited to:

  • Conceptual frameworks linking the extended mind theory and environmental design;
  • The influence of external artefacts and of the biotic component of the urban system on cognition and perception in architectural and urban contexts;
  • Ethical considerations related to cognitive augmentation through the built environment;
  • Innovative design strategies that embrace the extended mind concept;
  • User-centred approaches to designing spaces that facilitate cognitive extensions;
  • Technological advancements and their impact on cognitive interactions within designed environments;
  • The role of culture, context and individual differences in shaping cognitive extensions;
  • The relationship between cognitive representation of the urban space and socio-economic interactions.

To design quality of life and social quality.

Further reading
Andy Clark, Being There (1997)
Andy Clark, Natural-Born Cyborgs (2003)
Clark, Chalmers, The Extended Mind (1998)
Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin. Architecture and the Senses (2005); Lampi di pensiero. Fenomenologia della percezione in architettura [Thinking lamps. Phenomenology of perception in architecture] (2012); The Embodied Image: Imagination and Imagery in Architecture (2014)


Catterina Seia

Co-Founder and President of CCW-Cultural Welfare Center; Co-Founder and Vice President of the Fitzcarraldo Foundation; Vice President of the Fondazione Medicina a Misura di Donna

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