Interactions between Cognitive Impairment and Transport in Urban Environments

This Wellcome Trust funded project will explore the cognitive characteristics of Greater Manchester's public transport network as it seeks to become more dementia-friendly.

Novel social and cognitive science, approaching people and places as indivisible assemblages, challenges dementia research’s traditional humanism (people as exceptional entities) and neuroreductionism (brains as cognitive supercomputers). However, these traditional ideas permeate current dementia-friendly strategies, positing that agentic persons inhabit inactive spaces.

Resulting initiatives assume that architectural refinement will maximise individuals’ intrinsic cognitive capacities, overlooking the complex distribution of cognition throughout evolving atmospheric spaces. They often lack user perspectives and sophisticated theoretical grounding.

In response, the IN-CITU project combines cutting-edge scholarships to explore cognition-environment relations through a sensory ethnography of Manchester’s public transport, a target for dementia-friendly initiatives. A researcher will accompany 25 passengers with dementia, documenting the journeys through interviewing, fieldnotes, photography and mapping. Participants will capture photographs and videos for an exhibition across the transport network. The exceptionally rich dataset, comprised of audio-visual media, sensory ethnographic data and maps, will be made available to future researchers.

The project will challenge outdated assumptions in dementia research and policy, developing proposals for improving each. It aligns with policy priorities and will propose service improvements in collaboration with key stakeholders. It will generate an unprecedented open-access dataset for analysing dementia-friendliness and cognition-environment relations, and pioneer methods for inclusive ecological dementia research.

Key research questions

How is cognition embodied, embedded, extended and enacted in relation to socio-atmospherics?

To date, distributed cognitive domains are yet to be applied to the study of socio-atmospherics. There is hence a paucity of empirical evidence based on observations of people with cognitive impairments in well-defined real-world socio-atmospherics. This research question can only be addressed through the study of participants with cognitive impairment within naturalistic study sites selected by those people.

How do these relations affect and reflect the constitution of cognitive decline in later life?

Similarly, these approaches have not yet been applied to dementia. The involvement of participants with dementia is therefore integral to the project’s ability to unpack how cognition is distributed within specific socio-atmospherics and how this distribution influences cognitive impairment.

How can these new understandings of cognitive ecologies improve dementia-friendly environments?

Given the lack of involvement of people with dementia in research on dementia-friendly environments, later interviews will include discussion of how emerging findings relate to notions of dementia-friendliness. The perspectives of people with dementia will hence be central to addressing this question. General findings will also be discussed with the advisory group to further refine public health recommendations.

Principle Investigator

Dr James Rupert Fletcher


The Wellcome Trust

Partner Organisations


For more information about this project please contact