Michael Hooper explores the subconscious influences on our perceptions of urban form in JPER paper

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Hooper recently published a paper in the Journal of Planning Education and Research (JPER) examining subconscious influences on perceptions of urban form, a piece that Planetizen recently picked up and is offering as an open-source feature until January.

Entitled “Flatulence, filth and urban form: Do primes for hygiene influence perceptions of urban density?,” Hooper’s paper begins by asking what accounts for the tensions and widely divergent opinions that people hold regarding urban density. One possible explanation, he observes, is that sentiments on the city may be premised on subconscious factors, and that people’s perceptions of density might, like many other social, political and moral attitudes, be malleable and subject to influence through so-called “priming.” Priming is a psychological technique by which exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, but subconsciously, without direct intention.

To explore the relationship between priming and urban density, Hooper drew on Harvard’s Decision Science Laboratory, intended for behavioral experiments. Studying 437 participants, Hooper focused on primes, or cues, for hygiene and how people connect ideas of hygiene and urban density.

Hooper’s full article remains available via Planetizen through the end of the year.

Hooper joined Harvard after working for several years with the United Nations Development Programme, including a year posted to the Kenya Ministry of Planning in Nairobi. Hooper’s research focuses on the politics of housing, land use and urbanization, with particular interest in issues of forced displacement, disasters and participatory governance. Past research projects have addressed, among other topics, forced displacement in East Africa, post-disaster reconstruction in Haiti, the dynamics of rapid urbanization in Mongolia, and First Nations housing policy in Canada. At the GSD, Hooper leads the Urban Planning and Design thesis program and, from 2011-2017, served as Director of the Social Agency Lab, one of the school’s research incubation laboratories.