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We are undertaking an 18-month study assessing the cognitive impacts of two magnificent but different architectural conditions—one secular and one religious— on people with committed religious faith. The two buildings are in Washington, DC, approximately controlled for size, urban presence, and architectural quality. The subjects will be 30 individuals of both genders without architectural background. A mobile EEG system (CGX Quick-20r) and biosensors (EMPATICA E4 wristband) will be used to record the subjects’ brain, heart, and bodily responses to the two aesthetic structures. Half of the subjects will be randomly assigned to experience the sacred architecture first, and the other half will begin with the secular building. The conditions of the visits will be controlled in terms of experiential guidelines (attention, attitude, social engagement), time of day, duration, and walking path (approach, entry, interior wandering, exit). One simple questionnaire (repeated a few times during each visit) plus a semi-structured exit interview at the end of the second visit will be used to collect their cognitive responses to the two aesthetic conditions. The study will be conducted under IRB approval.


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Thirty (30) participants will be recruited from The Catholic University of America. They will be of both genders without any architectural background and professing a strong Catholic faith Subjects will be 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 that of choosing expert meditators when demonstrating the impacts of meditation. In the case of believers, their sensibility to a sacred space of their faith will 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 gives us the best chance to evaluate our hypotheses. If successful, future experiments will include populations of other faiths (or no faith).

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