Restorative Environments

E. Ratcliffe (chair); B. Sona; Y. Zhang; E.A. Karras; J. Benfield. Location: A12

Qualitative associations with bird sounds and their relationships to perceived restorative potential

E. Ratcliffe, B. Gatersleben, & P. T. Sowden

Natural sounds can restore self-reported mood and cognitive abilities after stress and fatigue (e.g. Jahncke et al., 2011; Benfield et al., 2014). Bird sounds are perceived as particularly restorative, partly due to personal associations and memories (Ratcliffe et al., 2013). However, relationships between these properties and perceptions of restorative potential are understudied. In this online study, one hundred and sixteen adult residents of the United Kingdom rated fifty bird sounds on perceived restorative potential (PRP) and provided qualitative data regarding associations with the sounds. Thematic analysis of associations revealed four main themes: imagined environments; animal life; time and season; and activities within the environments. Bird sounds rated as high in PRP were associated with green environments, family, and specific memories from the past. Bird sounds rated as low in PRP were associated with negative symbolism and stereotypes, and with perceptions of threat and lack of control. This study confirms existing research on negative relationships between threat and restoration, and extends this by demonstrating that semantic properties such as personal associations, memories, and symbols are important attributes of restorative perceptions of bird sounds. Furthermore, this study shows that individuals can extrapolate from specific auditory stimuli alone to perceptions of wider environments.

Creating restorative break rooms: Effects on emotional and self-control resources

B. Sona, A. Steidle, & E. Dietl

Previous research on creation of restorative environments has mainly focused on the consequences of visual stimuli. However, environments influence users through all senses. Consequently, the present study investigated the combined effects of visual, acoustic, and olfactory stimuli.  Our assumption was that an increasing number of pleasant, congruent ambient conditions would reinforce the perceived restorativeness of the environment and, in turn, promote the restoration of depleted resources. In the study, participants first worked on simulated office tasks and were then allowed to recover in one of five simulated environments. The environments varied in terms of artificial window view (no view, a view to an indoor environment, or a view into nature) and in terms of ambient scent (neutral vs. congruent with the view). Results revealed that the nature conditions provided more restorative atmosphere than the control condition. Moreover, sensory enriched break rooms promoted the recovery of emotional and self-control resources. As expected, the perceived restorativeness of the environments mediated the recovery effects. These results indicate the positive potential of simulated environments and highlight the necessity of matching sensory impressions.

Linking residents’ perception of urban green spaces to neighborhood satisfaction and wellbeing

Y. Zhang, T. van Dijk, & A.E. van den Berg

Urban green spaces (UGS) may contribute to neighborhood satisfaction and wellbeing. While a substantial amount of empirical work has focused on the physical provision of UGS, few studies have empirically investigated the links between the perception of UGS and neighborhood satisfaction and wellbeing. In order to fill this gap, this paper estimated the relationship between perceived UGS and neighborhood satisfaction and wellbeing through a paper-mailed survey administered in two urban neighborhoods in Groningen. The two neighborhoods were similar in physical amount of green spaces, socio-economic status, and demographics, but differed in green space accessibility and usability. Over 200 valid questionnaires were returned, which provided information on  residents’ perception of the provision, quality, and importance of UGS, along with, self-reports of neighborhood satisfaction, and physical and mental wellbeing. Preliminary analyses revealed significant differences in the perception of provision and quality of UGS between the two neighborhoods, indicating that people’s perceptions are shaped by more factors than mere physical amount of UGS. Further analysis will examine possible relationships between perceptions of UGS and neighborhood satisfaction and wellbeing, and the role of accessibility and usability in these relationships.

The Role of Fractals as Aspects in Restorative Environments: Is Fractal Geometry Easy on the Mind?

E. A. Karras, A.B. Unal, Y. Joye, & L. Steg

Environmental psychology research has revealed that unthreatening natural versus urban environments can decrease negative affect (Ulrich et al., 1991) and replenish depleted attentional resources (Kaplan & Berman, 2010). It has been speculated that such restorative effects are partly driven by the predominance of fractal geometry in natural environments (Hagerhall, Taylor & Purcell, 2003; Joye & Van den Berg, 2011). Fractals are commonly defined as consisting of a self-similar pattern, i.e., patterns that contain smaller copies of the whole structure at increasingly smaller scale levels (Taylor et al., 2005). The effects of exposure to fractal versus non-fractal patterns on restoration remain speculative. To address this gap, we experimentally examined the effect of natural and computer-generated fractals on three constructs that are central to restorative nature experiences (Joye et al., 2013). In a lab study, we exposed participants (n = 70) to two categories of stimuli: natural images and computer generated patterns, with either high or low fractal characteristics (within-subjects design). Participants completed three computer-based priming tasks measuring attention, processing fluency and affective response. There were two categories of stimuli: natural images and geometrical patterns. Each category consisted of pairs of comparable fractal and non-fractal images. The preliminary findings revealed significantly higher accuracy and faster reaction times in processing fluency for natural fractal images.  Theoretical and practical implications of our findings will be discussed.

Auditory threat signals alter the restorative properties of nature sounds

J.A. Benfield

Visual access to natural environments has restorative benefits for those who experience them. Such benefits are often explained as a consequence of an evolutionary affinity toward life supporting processes. Less research has been done on auditory stimuli to promote restoration. The current study aims to examine how natural sounds promote mood and stress recovery and how signals of threat alter those effects. A single experiment (N=126) was conducted in which participants viewed a distressing video and were then exposed to a natural sound listening task with varied conditions. Pre-post measures of mood, along with continuous heart rate monitoring, were dependent variables. Results showed that natural sounds aided in recovery beyond control conditions, F=9.06, p<.05. However, natural sounds containing a nearby threat component (e.g., canines growling) showed no differences from the control condition, F=2.16, p=.149. Threat signals presented at a distance (e.g., canines howling) were shown to be more restorative than control, F=6.23, p<.05. Restorative auditory stimuli have practical applications in educational, medical, or institutional environments. The observed effects of auditory threats lend support to evolutionary models of restoration but demand further investigation regarding threat context, cultural variability, and threat characteristics.