New methods for assessing the fascinating nature of nature experiences

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 26;8(7):e65332. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065332. Print 2013.

Abstract

In recent years, numerous environmental psychology studies have demonstrated that contact with nature as opposed to urban settings can improve an individual's mood, can lead to increased levels of vitality, and can offer an opportunity to recover from stress. According to Attention Restoration Theory (ART) the restorative potential of natural environments is situated in the fact that nature can replenish depleted attentional resources. This replenishment takes place, in part, because nature is deemed to be a source of fascination, with fascination being described as having an "attentional", an "affective" and an "effort" dimension. However, the claim that fascination with nature involves these three dimensions is to a large extent based on intuition or derived from introspection-based measurement methods, such as self-reports. In three studies, we aimed to more objectively assess whether these three dimensions indeed applied to experiences related to natural environments, before any (attentional) depletion has taken place. The instruments that were used were: (a) the affect misattribution procedure (Study 1), (b) the dot probe paradigm (Study 2) and (c) a cognitively effortful task (Study 3). These instrument were respectively aimed at verifying the affective, attentional and effort dimension of fascination. Overall, the results provide objective evidence for the claims made within the ART framework, that natural as opposed to urban settings are affectively positive (cfr., affective dimension) and that people have an attentional bias to natural (rather than urban) environments (cfr., attentional dimension). The results regarding the effort dimension are less straightforward, and suggest that this dimension only becomes important in sufficiently difficult cognitive tasks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nature*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychology / methods*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Wilderness*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The research reported in the article was supported by a postdoctoral research grant from the Science Foundation Flanders. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.