We conducted two studies, each one approximately 18-months long, to assess (1) the cognitive EFFECTS of two magnificent but different architectural conditions—one secular and one religious— on Catholics, and (2) the possible architectural CAUSES for such responses. The two buildings were in Washington, DC, approximately controlled for size, urban presence, and architectural quality. We used a different group of 32 individuals for each study. Half of the subjects were randomly assigned to experience the sacred building first, and the other half began with the secular structure. The conditions of the visits were controlled in terms of experiential guidelines (attention, attitude, social engagement), time of day, duration, and walking path (approach, entry, interior wandering, exit). A simple questionnaire (repeated a few times during each visit) and a semi-structured exit questionnaire at the end were used to collect the subjects' responses to the two aesthetic conditions. Both studies were conducted under IRB approval.
STUDY OF EFFECTS: A mobile EEG system (CGX Quick-20r) and biosensors (EMPATICA E4 wristband) were used to record the subjects’ brain, heart, and bodily responses to the two aesthetic structures.
STUDY OF CAUSES: Mobile Eye-Tracking glasses (VPS 19) and biosensors (EMPATICA E4) were utilized to gauge the subjects' attentional gaze and bodily reaction to the two buildings.
Two groups of thirty two (32) participants (one per study) were recruited from The Catholic University of America. They were of both genders without architectural background and professing a strong Catholic faith. Subjects were screened by the Santa Clara Strength of Religious Faith Questionnaire to ensure their faith commitment. The rationale for selecting believers as our population is similar to choosing expert meditators when demonstrating the impacts of meditation. In the case of believers, their sensibility to a sacred space of their faith would allow them to appreciate, experience, and engage the consecrated building more strongly than might be expected of the general population. In other words, this group gave us the best chance to evaluate our hypotheses. If successful, future experiments will include populations of other faiths (or no faith).