How architectural forms affect emotions


A study of architectural features by means of electroencephalographic recordings in virtual reality settings


A virtual reality study evaluates the link between space, body, emotions, cognitive responses. A step forward in understanding the close link between architecture and neuroscience.

In order to measure how the shape of space can modify the emotional content of people’s experiences, and to investigate the more complex aspects of the relationship between the shape of space and the bodily and affective cerebral representations of humans, the research project NuArch is underway:

The research is being carried out in Parma at the dell’Istituto di Neuroscienze del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (IN-CNR). Together with Davide Ruzzon Director of TUNED, for Lombardini22, the team of researchers involved in the project is coordinated by Giovanni Vecchiato along with Fausto Caruana and Pietro Avanzini, with the extraordinary participation of Prof. Giacomo Rizzolatti.


On 24 June 2021 in Lombardini22 were presented the first results of the research with Prof. Rizzolatti: discover more


Living space profoundly impacts on our behavior and mental states.

Neuroscientific discoveries demonstrated that cerebral circuits underlying human cognition and bodily reactions are affected by the surrounding environment. This evidence set a promising direction of using neuroscience for architecture to investigate the relation between brain and built environment by using the body, with its subjective physical and neurophysiological properties, as the link between the two entities. Building upon these recent findings, the aim of the present project is to study how architecture impacts on human behavior and cerebral activity. The research is carried out by adopting an ecological setup in a virtual reality environment which is able to instantiate neurophysiological responses of the whole architectural perception in a social scenario. The explicit correlates of this experience are represented by perceptual judgments reported by subjects observing expressive bodily actions within virtual architectures. Instead, the implicit dimension of perception is investigated by means of electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings to highlight the role of body representations during the architectural experience. To this aim, architectures and virtual body expressions are designed to differently engage the subjects. The analysis of the related cerebral responses will guide to the identification of the cortical networks responsible for processing architecture in a virtual social context. The acquired knowledge will be exploited for evidence-based design to improve future architecture that will be beneficial for the overall well-being of people.



Research team

Giacomo Rizzolatti, MD

Institute of Neuroscience, National Research Council of Italy, Parma Department of Medicine and Surgery, University of Parma


Prof. Giacomo Rizzolatti is Emeritus Professor of Human Physiology at the Università degli studi di Parma, and fellow of the Institute of Neuroscience of the National Research Council of Italy. He has been visiting professor at the Department of Anatomy of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and a ‘Sage professor’ at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He started his career as a visual neurophysiologist investigating the neuronal properties of the lateral geniculate body and superior colliculus of the cat. Subsequently, he became interested in visuomotor integration and in the organization of motor areas in monkeys and humans. During these studies he discovered ‘mirror neurons’, whose mechanism is fundamental in social interaction. He has received honorary degrees from the University Claude Bernard of Lyon, University of St. Petersburg, and Catholic University of Leuven. He is a member of Accademia dei Lincei, of Academia Europaea, of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Foreign Member National Academy of Sciences. His major awards are the Golgi Prize for Physiology, the Herlitzka Prize for Physiology awarded by the Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, the Brain Prize from the Lundbeck Foundation.

Read more Read more

Giovanni Vecchiato, PhD

Institute of Neuroscience, National Research Council of Italy, Parma


Dr. Giovanni Vecchiato is Senior Post Doc Researcher at the Institute of Neuroscience of the National Research Council of Italy in Parma. His current activity is to investigate the role that the motor system has in cognitive tasks by means of recording and analysis of high density electroencephalographic (EEG) data during the execution and the observation of tasks in real and virtual settings. Dr. Vecchiato has been awarded by national and international committee such as the Neuroaesthetic Award received from the Italian Society of Psychophysiology for his work titled “Electroencephalographic signatures of aesthetic experience during the perception of interior designs in a virtual reality CAVE system”. He was invited speaker at national and international conferences, such as “Festa dell’Architetto 2019” and “Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture 2018”. As Principal Investigator (PI), Dr. Vecchiato received grants from Province of Rome (Italy) and Sapienza University of Rome. Moreover, he is PI of the NuArch project co-funded by Lombardini22 (Milan, Italy). Dr. Vecchiato is Associate Editor of Frontiers in Neuroergonomics and member of the faculty board of the Master Course Neuroscience Applied to Architectural Design (NAAD) at the IUAV University, Venice.

Read more Read more

Paolo Presti, PhD Student

Institute of Neuroscience, National Research Council of Italy, Parma Department of Medicine and Surgery, University of Parma


Dr. Paolo Presti holds a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering achieved at Sapienza University of Rome. His Master thesis was carried out in collaboration with the Department of Data Analysis at the faculty of Psychological and Educational Science at the University of Ghent, place in which he has spent 5 months. The main goal of the thesis was to study how inverse approaches for extracting cortical waveforms from EEG scalp data and functional connectivity measures can be exploited to investigate the human brain circuits. During that period, he increased his knowledge related to EEG data processing, thus acquiring data analysis skills. To date, Dr. Presti is PhD student in Neuroscience at University of Parma. His scientific interests are related to the cerebral processes underlying action recognition within virtual reality environments. His expertise concerns the modelling of virtual scenarios and virtual avatars animated with real human bodily expressions.

Read more Read more

Fausto Caruana, PhD

Institute of Neuroscience, National Research Council of Italy, Parma


Dr. Fausto Caruana is Research Scientist at the Institute of Neuroscience of the Italian National Research Council (IN-CNR), in Parma. He is specialized in social, cognitive and affective neuroscience. He authored more than 60 papers on the neural and psychological mechanisms underlying emotions, empathy, mirror neurons and motor cognition. His research is conducted using a multidisciplinary approach, mainly centered on intracranial recordings and electrical stimulations. Trained as an electrophysiologist in non-human primates, he is now working in the field of human electrophysiology thanks to a collaboration established with the Claudio Munari Epilepsy Surgery Center at the Niguarda Hospital, Milan. Beside his neuroscientific interests, he is pursuing theoretical research concerning the relationship between neuroscience and humanities and, in particular, embodied and 4E cognition. He has been awarded with national awards and he has given invited talks at prestigious national and international institutes and meetings, on both neuroscientific and philosophical topics. He is the author of “Habits. Pragmatist Approaches from Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and Social Theory” (2020, with I. Testa, CUP), “Come Funzionano Le Emozioni. Da Darwin Alle Neuroscienze” (2018, with M. Viola, Il Mulino), “Il Cervello In Azione” (2016, with A. Borghi, Il Mulino) and “Il Cervello Empatico. Dalla Teoria della Mente al Meccanismo Mirror” (2019, Hachette).

Read more Read more

Pietro Avanzini, PhD

Institute of Neuroscience, National Research Council of Italy, Parma


Dr. Pietro Avanzini is a Researcher at the National Research Council of Italy, Institute of Neuroscience. His scientific studies are mainly related to the field of System and Computational Neuroscience, focusing on the characterization of cortical areas endowed with the human mirror mechanism. He acquired knowledge about neural signal recording and processing, especially with electroencephalography (EEG). He contributed papers relative to cortical motor rhythms’ reactivity and to motor system activation during action observation tasks. He is currently investigating how action observation can become an efficient tool in neurorehabilitation, conducting studies on clinical populations like people with cerebral palsy, perinatal stroke survivors and traumatological patients. Recently, thanks to a collaboration with the Epilepsy Surgery Center “Claudio Munari” in Milan, he started to face the characterization of the human mirror mechanism and the assessment of cortical rhythms’ generators by studying intracerebral EEG data. In particular, he currently aims at achieving an online functional characterization of the cortical regions explored in patients, and at identifying scalp EEG biomarkers that can reliably index the activity of specific cortical networks. To this aim, he contributed to establish a long-term collaboration with international companies to develop software based on machine learning and big data treatment.

Read more Read more

Conferences & Recognition

Presentation at conferences

P. Presti, D. Ruzzon, F. Caruana, G. Vecchiato. «Architectural forms impact on perceived valence and arousal of virtual environments». Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, September 16-18 2021, Salk Institute, San Diego, La Jolla.

P. Presti, D. Ruzzon, P. Avanzini, F. Caruana, G. Vecchiato. «Linking architecture and emotions by the recognition of virtual body expressions». 8th International Conference on Spatial Cognition, September 13-17, 2021, Rome.

G. Vecchiato, P. Presti, S. Lenzi, D. Ruzzon, P. Avanzini, F. Caruana. «An adaptation effect paradigm showing the relationship between architectural experience and the perception of body postures: a pilot study in virtual reality». 13th Annual Meeting of the Social & Affective Neuroscience Society, April 28 – May 2, 2021.

P. Presti, S. Lenzi, D. Ruzzon, P. Avanzini, F. Caruana, G. Vecchiato. «The experience of virtual environments affects the perception of emotional body postures: an adaptation after effect pilot study». 8th annual Society for Affective Science conference, April 13- 16 2021.

P. Presti, S. Lenzi, D. Ruzzon, P. Avanzini, F. Caruana, G. Vecchiato. «An adaptation aftereffect paradigm to investigate the social impact of built environments: behavioural and electrophysiological evidences in body judgment tasks in virtual reality». 5th HBP Student Conference on Interdisciplinary Brain Research, February 1-4 2021, Medical University Innsbruck, Switzerland.

P. Presti, D. Ruzzon, S. Lenzi, F. Caruana, G. Rizzolatti, P. Avanzini, G. Vecchiato. «The relationship between architecture and body expression: a pilot behavioral study in virtual reality». Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, September 17-19 2020, Salk Institute, San Diego, La Jolla.

Recognition obtained

Paolo Presti. «Riconoscimento di azioni all’interno di ambienti architettonici, uno studio in realtà virtuale». Neurospritz, Musica e Cervello, vincitore del contest per giovani ricercatori, 30 Gennaio 2020, Roma.