Moodmap: Emotion to Environment

BY MANDI L. CAI

Moodmap investigates the influence of the environment on our emotions. I was intrigued by the specific places that individuals catalogued as “sad” or “happy” in their memories, and I wanted to map out these emotions across Providence. I was also interested in learning about why people associated a specific location with a certain emotion—was it primarily because of the physical characteristics of the environment itself, or a result of the experiences that occurred there?

The mind and the environment (original art by Mandi L. Cai).

In addition to reading about psychogeography, mapping experience, and the maps by Kevin Lynch in our seminar, I learned about mental maps in a previous seminar on spatial cognition, I decided to remap Providence using these concepts as the main source of inspiration. I wanted to figure out which places in Providence corresponded with the five Universal Emotions: enjoyment, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. Much of my inspiration was also drawn from Christian Nold’s emotional maps.

The Ekman’s Atlas of Emotions states that, “most emotional researchers agree on these five Universal Emotions: emotions that all humans, no matter where or how we were raised, have in common.”

I administered surveys that asked questions relating locations in Providence to each of the five emotions, such as:

  1. Name one place in Providence that you associate with “enjoyment.”
  2. What are physical characteristics about these places that associate them with “enjoyment”?
  3. What experiences have you had in these places that associate them with “enjoyment”?

I obtained around 100 responses from students in the surrounding campuses as well as other Providence residents, and I mapped out each person’s answers onto a map of the city to identify the hotspots for each emotion. As an avid fan of Black Mirror, a science fiction anthology television series, I looked at different interfaces portrayed in the show’s episodes to design the feel and appearance of Moodmap.

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The map below shows my survey results. The emoticon on the location shows the emotion that is associated with that particular place. The size of the emoticon represents the amount of people that named a specific place with respect to an emotion.


In general, it was much easier to think of places that inspired enjoyment; every survey response included answers for the questions linking a location to enjoyment. Enjoyment was typically associated with parks, scenic routes, bodies of water, areas for entertainment, and eateries.

India Point Park is a hotspot for “enjoyment.”

Sadness was commonly felt in university libraries, academic buildings for STEM, abandoned buildings, Kennedy Plaza, hospitals, dormitories, and eateries where individuals had gone on bad dates. The locations I received for anger were much more spread out and in vastly different places; this result reflected highly-individualized experiences that occurred in specific locations. Many people cited performance venues, the Rhode Island State House, the Nelson Fitness Center at Brown University, academic buildings for STEM, and the Wriston Quad as places that they would associate with anger. Disgust was primarily confined to the Wriston Quad, old dormitories, library bathrooms, and the Providence Place Mall.

Hotspots for anger, sadness, and disgust.

In contrast, the locations associated with fear were not building-specific; rather, respondents named entire streets or general areas of Providence—such as Brook Street, Governor Street, areas under highway overpasses, and downtown Providence—as places that incited fear.

Downtown Providence is a hotspot for fear.

For the project component of Moodmap, I use a discursive, dystopia-inspired approach to illustrate the effects of environments on our emotions. My project envisions a future where our city has a direct impact on our emotions when we are situated in that environment. I created posters to advertise locations in which to experience the five Universal Emotions in the Providence of this dystopian future world. I chose these five locations to advertise based on the places that appeared most frequently in my survey responses.

        

It was an extremely rewarding experience to have understood each individual’s emotional journey throughout Providence. During this project, I found myself viewing places through another person’s perspective and acknowledging that each place has a wide spectrum of meanings and emotional affects. I hope to continue refining and administering the survey to build a more extensive Moodmap after this class ends, possibly for cities outside of Providence.