Linking preference for environments with their restorative quality


  • T. Hartig
  • H. Staats


Why do people so commonly prefer natural scenes over urban scenes? Answers to this question have implications for the development and application of research on environmental aesthetics. In a series of three experiments, we studied how the need for and the likelihood of psychological restoration affected preference for a forest versus an urban centre. In this work, we treated preference as an attitude toward a behaviour that a person could perform in either environment, namely, walking for one hour. We also manipulated the need for restoration - specifically, the degree of attentional fatigue - experienced by the person just prior to the walk. The fatigue manipulation involved either scenarios or naturalistic conditions. The walk itself was simulated; we used sets of consecutive photographic slides to represent movement through the given environment. Our results were consistent across the experiments. The subjects expressed a more positive attitude toward walking in a forest compared to an urban centre. The difference in attitude toward the two environments was greater among subjects with a greater degree of attentional fatigue. This result apparently owes to the more positive evaluation of attentional recovery by those who were fatigued, and to the greater likelihood of attentional recovery occurring with a walk in the forest. These findings speak to the consequences of ignoring a preference for natural environments commonly expressed by members of urban populations.