The impact of water and anthropogenic objects on implicit evaluations of natural scenes: a restorative environments perspective

Pool, Ursula orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-3658-3346 (2017) The impact of water and anthropogenic objects on implicit evaluations of natural scenes: a restorative environments perspective. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Research has consistently demonstrated that exposure to nature, as opposed to urban environments, can be beneficial to health and wellbeing. Among natural landscapes, aquatic (blue space) scenes are among the most preferred and psychologically restorative. Since such landscapes face an increasing range of demands, there is a need to understand how their restorative qualities arise and might be preserved, both in terms of the content of a scene and the psychological processes involved in its interpretation.
This thesis examines the cognitive impact of placing artificial (human-made) objects in natural landscapes with and without water. It reports new findings regarding the importance of specific scene content for the restorative potential of blue space. The research also explores some of the underlying psychological processes, addressing novel questions about implicit (subconscious) attitudes towards natural landscapes. It compares implicit and explicit attitudes for the first time in this context.
In four studies, methods from social and experimental psychology were used to investigate attitudes towards blue and green space with and without artificial objects. To examine the issues of both artificial objects and implicit attitudes, Study 1 used the Affect Misattribution Procedure (which measures implicit attitudes towards images) to assess whether implicit affect (subconscious positive or negative emotion) differed when the same natural scene was viewed with and without artificial objects. Results showed that introducing objects into natural scenes had a negative impact on implicit affect, particularly when the scene contained water.
In order to be able to compare implicit and explicit attitudes, Study 2 examined explicit affective reactions to the images from Study 1 using questions adapted from the Perceived Restorativeness Scale (a measure of the restorative potential of environments). Blue space scenes were rated more highly than green space scenes on all components except aesthetics. The presence of artificial objects resulted in lower ratings on all measures for both blue and green scenes.
Study 3 was motivated by an indication in the results from Study 1 that implicit attitudes towards blue and green space may differ. The Affect Misattribution Procedure was used to investigate this for natural landscapes without artificial objects. The study also examined whether implicit attitudes differ according to the type of blue or green environment. Viewing blue space scenes resulted in more positive implicit affect than green space, with sea views generating the most positive implicit affect of all.
Following the discovery that artificial objects had a more negative impact on implicit attitudes to blue space than green space, Study 4 tested the possibility that this could be due to such objects being more disruptive to the conceptual coherence of aquatic scenes. The conceptual-semantic congruence of artificial objects was assessed using a lexical decision task, in which participants reacted to object words superimposed on scenes. Results did not support the hypothesis that artificial objects are less congruent in blue space than green space.
Overall, the studies provide evidence that placing artificial objects in natural landscapes, particularly aquatic landscapes, adversely affects both implicit and explicit attitudes towards the scenes and may reduce their restorative potential. By successfully combining methods from social and experimental psychology, this research validates novel ways of formulating and addressing questions about why some environments have a more positive psychological impact than others. The new results reported here are not easily explained by current restorative theory, therefore might contribute to refining the theoretical framework within which restorative environments are studied.

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