After doing a home remodel, I leaned that within the interior design community, most professionals refer to their work by the "vibe", "energy" and "feeling" their design of a room (or house) creates, within the individual occupying the property.

A simple example, a wood log cabin designed home creates a very different "feel/vibe" than a sleek modern home.

Cognitively speaking, what exactly is this "vibe" and "energy" that is referred to and what is happening within an individual that causes it?

Also, are some people more sensitive to the "vibe" the environment gives off and why?

Any help is appreciated.


I wouldn't take these terms too literally. I'm no interior designer, so I can't really rule out special meanings within the trade, but my impression of common usage is that these are informal, rough synonyms for the emotions evoked by the aesthetic characteristics of an environment. Urban Dictionary may be an unlikely source for an authoritative definition of vibe, but I'm inclined to endorse this particular definition anyway:

(Noun)A distinctive emotional atmosphere; sensed intuitively.

"It gave me a nostalgic vibe".
"That man gives off bad vibes"

From this, it's apparent that emotions and intuition play a role in "vibe" perception. Emotion is fairly basic in phenomenology, so it seems sufficient to say that stimuli that provoke emotion can thus be said to possess or influence "vibes". The additional specification of intuition implies to me that the experience is somewhat beyond the person's complete, rational comprehension. Maybe some subjective sense of confusion, uncertainty, or non-rational (though not necessarily irrational) processing is also inherent in the experience of a "vibe". As a snide aside, there's at least some confusion implicit in the misapplication of vibration and (electromagnetic? thermal? paranormal?) "energy" as metaphors for aesthetic qualia. This is probably the philosophical equivalent of what they mean to say, and much more carefully defined.

IMHO, your second question is much more interesting. Indeed some people may be more sensitive to "vibes" or qualia. A lesser-known personality trait I've always found really fascinating is absorption. It subsumes several interesting tendencies involving attention responsiveness and regulation, including:

  • Intensity of experiences, both real and imagined
  • Capacity for the flow experience of deep task engagement and loss of self-awareness
  • Susceptibility to hypnotism, daydreaming, nightmares, and psychopharmacological effects

Absorption relates strongly to openness, which is much better known as a personality trait. Supposedly composed of six facets (these are somewhat more a matter of debate), openness relates to absorption primarily through the fantasy, feelings, and aesthetics facets (Glisky, Tataryn, Tobias, Kihlstrom, & McConkey, 1991). Again, I can't say for sure, but I'd bet that these feelings and aesthetics facets would be particularly relevant to individual differences in the sort of sensitivity you have in mind.

Glisky, M. L., Tataryn, D. J., Tobias, B. A., Kihlstrom, J. F., & McConkey, K. M. (1991). Absorption, openness to experience, and hypnotizability. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(2), 263–272.

  • $\begingroup$ nice, that does help a lot. However, the first thing that came to mind is that absorption seems to be about getting lost in ones own imagination....is their correlation to getting "lost" in ones environment or being absorbed in the same fashions as in the imagination? $\endgroup$ – Greg McNulty Mar 10 '14 at 5:06

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