Sports Medicine

, Volume 48, Issue 6, pp 1505–1511 | Cite as

Perceptual Modification of the Built Environment to Influence Behavior Associated with Physical Activity: Quasi-Experimental Field Studies of a Stair Banister Illusion

  • Rich Masters
  • Catherine Capio
  • Jamie Poolton
  • Liis Uiga
Original Research Article



Re-engineering the built environment to influence behaviors associated with physical activity potentially provides an opportunity to promote healthier lifestyles at a population level. Here we present evidence from two quasi-experimental field studies in which we tested a novel, yet deceptively simple, intervention designed to alter perception of, and walking behavior associated with, stairs in an urban area.


Our objectives were to examine whether adjusting a stair banister has an influence on perceptions of stair steepness or on walking behavior when approaching the stairs.


In study 1, we asked participants (n = 143) to visually estimate the steepness of a set of stairs viewed from the top, when the stair banister was adjusted so that it converged with or diverged from the stairs (± 1.91°) or remained neutral (± 0°). In study 2, the walking behavior of participants (n = 36) was filmed as they approached the stairs to descend, unaware of whether the banister converged, diverged, or was neutral.


In study 1, participants estimated the stairs to be steeper if the banister diverged from, rather than converged with, the stairs. The effect was greater when participants were unaware of the adjustment. In study 2, walking speed was significantly slower when the banister diverged from, rather than converged with, the stairs.


These findings encourage us to speculate about the potential to economically re-engineer features of the built environment to provide opportunities for action (affordances) that invite physical activity behavior or even promote safer navigation of the environment.



No sources of funding were used to assist with preparation of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical approval

All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

Conflict of interest

Rich Masters, Catherine Capio, Jamie Poolton, and Liis Uiga have no conflicts of interest associated with the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rich Masters
    • 1
    • 2
  • Catherine Capio
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jamie Poolton
    • 2
    • 3
  • Liis Uiga
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Te Huataki Waiora Faculty of Health, Sport and Human PerformanceUniversity of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of Public Health, Li Ka Shing Faculty of MedicineThe University of Hong KongHong Kong SARChina
  3. 3.Carnegie School of SportLeeds Beckett UniversityLeedsUK

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