Restorative Environments: Focus on Theory

Y. Joye; M.R. Marselle; H. Heft. Location: A12

Symposium: Restorative Environments: Focus on Theory 

Organisers: H. Staats & T. Hartig

Restorative environment research is blossoming in terms of the amount of research currently being performed. Nevertheless there is much to be done in terms of a deeper, theory based understanding of how specific environments, in particular natural environments, create the effects  we find and consider restorative and wholesome. This symposium targets  two kinds of theoretical issues: the first about specific theories and premises, the second about specific processes. Joie’s contribution focuses on other theories than the  ones that are currently being used  mostly. He critically examines these and proposes alternatives. Heft’s contribution  is even more fundamental, in his reflections about what we generally consider to be nature, how these judgments relate to cultural viewpoints, and what these insights may imply for the distinction between  natural and urban environments. Gatersleben and colleagues focus on the specific processes that are predicted to occur while in a state of involuntary attention. They  suggest that more precise descriptions of which attentional processes are taking place, is in order. Marselle and Irvine focus on which specific environmental qualities actually determine the predicted and found relationship between perceived naturalness, fascination evoked, and positive affect and happiness afterwards.

An exploration of the role of easy processing of fractal characteristics in restorative nature experiences

Y. Joye

Environmental psychology research shows that contact with natural as opposed to urban environments can foster psychological wellbeing, especially by decreasing stress and counteracting attentional fatigue. Despite the fact that numerous empirical studies have confirmed the existence of such restorative nature effects, there is still ongoing debate about the precise mechanisms underlying these effects. In my presentation I aim to critically discuss a novel account of restorative nature experiences that can possibly complement existing accounts of restoration, such as Attention Restoration Theory (ART) or Stress Recovery Theory (SRT). Specifically, my central hypothesis is that restorative nature experiences are to an important extent driven by fluent processing of the fractal characteristics of natural as opposed to urban scenes. My presentation will consist of three main parts. In the first part, I will identify and review the strengths and limitations of ART and SRT, and the need to build a complementary theoretical account of restoration. In the second part, I will critically discuss yet (unpublished) experimental evidence that supports my proposed fluency account of restoration. In the third part, I point to the strengths and limitations of this fluency account, and discuss its complementarity with ART and SRT.

Testing Attention Restoration Theory: the role of voluntary and involuntary attention

B. Gatersleben, I. Griffin, & P. Sowden

ART (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989) suggests that soft fascinating qualities of natural environments engagement involuntary attention. This temporarily disengages directed attention and because involuntary attention it is not sensitive to fatigue this results in restoration of voluntary attention. Support for ART come from many studies that have used a range of tests (e.g., NCPCT, SART, Attention Network Task, and others). But these tests tap into different aspects of attention and working memory and in many studies different paradigms are used to manipulate and measure attention fatigue. This makes it difficult to assess exactly what is being affected and indeed whether restoration is associated with attention per se. In a series of experiments we aim to test which cognitive functions are restored by exposure to natural environments. In this presentation I will present findings of a study that uses the Posner Cueing Task (Posner, 1980. Respondents are asked to complete version of the Posner task to induce fatigue. They are then shown a slide shows of natural environments after which the Poster task will be completed again. In line with ART we expect to find that endogenous but not exogenous attention is subject to fatigue and restoration.

Perceived restorativeness mediates the relationship between indicators of perceived environmental quality and emotional well-being

M.R. Marselle, K. N. Irvine, A. Lorenzo-Arribas, & S.L. Warber

With increasing interest in nature and health, mediation studies are needed to explain how nature influences health. Drawing on Attention Restoration Theory (ART), this study examined whether perceived restorativeness (PR) and its four subscales mediated the effect of perceived environmental quality indicators on short-term emotional well-being. Participants (n = 127) of a national group walk program completed pre- and post-walk questionnaires for each walk attended (n = 1,009) within a 13-week study period. Multilevel mediation modelling was used to examine the indirect effects. To isolate the environmental from the physical activity elements, walk duration and perceived walk intensity were also tested as predictors. PR mediated the associations between perceived naturalness and bird biodiversity, and post-walk positive affect, happiness and negative affect. Being away, fascination and compatibility subscales mediated the relationships between perceived naturalness and bird biodiversity, and post-walk positive affect and happiness. There was a significant indirect effect of walk duration and perceived walk intensity on post-walk positive affect, happiness and negative affect through PR. Fascination mediated the relationship between perceived walk intensity, and post-walk positive affect and happiness. The results were supportive of ART. Perceived restorative quality of an environment may explain how the physical environment influences well-being.