New research in brain and cognitive science is changing how we understand how people perceive and experience the built environment, offering key opportunities for urban planning, urban design, and architecture. Sixty-three college students looked at different scenes of New York City public buildings in a set up with an eye tracker in front of a monitor displaying images. Half of the images had design characteristics exemplary of traditional neighborhood design (TND) (like narrow streets, complex facades, and bilateral symmetry). Subjects tended to show greater eye fixation on building fenestration in TND environments, as opposed to the non-TND environments.

We used iMotions 6.1, software designed to aggregate biometric data, and an eye tracker from Eye Tribe accompanied by a Dell HD monitor (resolution 1920×1080, model P2417 H) for our study. The iMotions software ran on a Dell laptop with 8 GB RAM. Since our study was seeking to assess a more-or-less instantaneous response to surroundings, participants were given 15 seconds to look at an image on a computer screen, pre-set to present pictures in random order. 15 seconds is an industry accepted interval that measures both pre-attentive (3–5 second) and post-attentive processing(or unconscious and conscious attention). We only report here on the results from the pre-attentive, 3–5 seconds of eye-movement, and fixation activity.

KEYWORDS: Eye tracking, traditional neighborhood design, New York City, public buildings