Restorative Environments: The Role of Visual and Observer Characteristics

Twedt, Elyssa Lynnae, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Proffitt, Dennis, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Restorative environments are settings that foster recovery following a stressor. In past studies, researchers distinguished between visually appealing nature environments that tend to be restorative, and visually unappealing urban environments that tend to negatively affect individuals' well-being. However, less work is devoted to assessing the restorative potential of environments that do not fit into these extreme categories or to determine what variables account for restorative effects. The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate whether the definition of restorative environments could be broadened beyond a nature versus urban dichotomy, by highlighting general constraints that must be met for restoration to occur. In two experiments, participants rated the perceived restorative potential of environments that ranged on a continuum from completely natural to completely built or from completely formal to completely informal. In both studies, the visual appeal of environments reliably predicted perceived restorative potential above and beyond environment category or naturalness. In Experiment 4, differences among observer characteristics were measured. Trait-level characteristics, but not state-level characteristics, marginally influenced perceived restoration and visual appeal ratings. Finally, Experiment 5 showed that the visual complexity of environments, as measured by fractal dimension, did not predict perceived restorative potential. Collectively, the data suggest that nature environments are perceived to be the most restorative, but this is partially due to higher visual appeal. Restorative environments can more generally be defined as those settings that are perceived to be visually appealing to the observer.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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