How does the environment impact our wellbeing?

Window Expedition

What we see, hear and even smell in our environment impacts our wellbeing. A team at UZH has started a citizen science project1 to collect data about how we perceive landscapes.


The project “Window Expeditions” aims to help us better understand influences on the wellbeing of people, so that we can better integrate these influences into landscape planning in the future. The project lies at the intersection of Geography and Linguistics and is financed through the Research Priority Program “Language and Space”.
The idea is simple - to provide a platform encouraging people worldwide to describe the environment as they experience it in their everyday lives. “Window Expeditions” focusses not on images, but the written word, allowing contributors to describe not just what they see, but also hear, smell or even feel. Anyone can contribute to the project and thereby support the research; no training is required, merely access to the internet via a phone or computer.

Further contributions needes

Manuel Bär, a doctoral researcher, is delighted that so many people have already contributed. At the same time he is hoping that further descriptions will be uploaded in the near future, so that he will have enough data for his dissertation. He describes his research aim “We would like to discover how people perceive and describe their surroundings and how this varies depending on the location, language, season, background and, especially relevant in recent times, Covid measures.”

Originally Manuel and his supervisor Prof. Ross Purves anted to collect similar data through a location-based game (similar to Pokémon Go or Geocaching), but then Covid got in the way. “The idea for this project developed during the first lockdown” explains Prof. Purves. “We wanted to find out how sharing simple landscape descriptions can enhance the appreciation of our surrounding landscapes. With this project we would like to share our enthusiasm about how people describe their close surroundings, in particular during times when distant landscapes cannot be experienced.” 

More descriptions lead to a more interesting data set and research results within the project. By combining linguistic and geographic methods the researchers have already found out that the contributions diverge from the general use of language and noticeable differences were discovered between the various languages. This offers a unique window into our perception and these perceptions seem to vary between people from different cultures. Through further contributions it would be possible to further explore the differences and thereby support future decisions about nature conservation, sustainable development, urban planning and perceptual research.
So far many of the contributions have been submitted from Switzerland and the United Kingdom, but also from more distant locations, such as La Réunion. Participants have already written more than 500 descriptions in German, French and English, and the team would love to reach 2000 in the next few months. 


Prof. Ross Purves
Winterthurerstrasse 190
8057 Zürich
Email: window-expeditions(at) (project homepage) (homepage of the Research Priority Program „Language and Space”)


1 Citizen science is a research approach where the general public can contribute during some stage of the research process, such as during data collection or data interpretation. Many scientific fields apply citizen science, for instance biology, astronomy or medicine.

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