Is the preference of natural versus man-made scenes driven by bottom-up processing of the visual features of nature?

Front Psychol. 2015 Apr 23:6:471. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00471. eCollection 2015.


Previous research has shown that viewing images of nature scenes can have a beneficial effect on memory, attention, and mood. In this study, we aimed to determine whether the preference of natural versus man-made scenes is driven by bottom-up processing of the low-level visual features of nature. We used participants' ratings of perceived naturalness as well as esthetic preference for 307 images with varied natural and urban content. We then quantified 10 low-level image features for each image (a combination of spatial and color properties). These features were used to predict esthetic preference in the images, as well as to decompose perceived naturalness to its predictable (modeled by the low-level visual features) and non-modeled aspects. Interactions of these separate aspects of naturalness with the time it took to make a preference judgment showed that naturalness based on low-level features related more to preference when the judgment was faster (bottom-up). On the other hand, perceived naturalness that was not modeled by low-level features was related more to preference when the judgment was slower. A quadratic discriminant classification analysis showed how relevant each aspect of naturalness (modeled and non-modeled) was to predicting preference ratings, as well as the image features on their own. Finally, we compared the effect of color-related and structure-related modeled naturalness, and the remaining unmodeled naturalness in predicting esthetic preference. In summary, bottom-up (color and spatial) properties of natural images captured by our features and the non-modeled naturalness are important to esthetic judgments of natural and man-made scenes, with each predicting unique variance.

Keywords: bottom–up processing; esthetic preference; image features; natural scenes; perceived naturalness; urban scenes.