The Therapeutic Benefits of Nature Images on Health: Results from an Image Sorting Task

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It is known that exposure to surrogate nature views, represented on screen or wall has the potential to cause a psychological and physiological shift towards wellness. What is not largely known is which images are more therapeutic than others. The Therapeutic Benefits of Nature Images on Health uses interdisciplinary application in the theory and methods section and largely hails from the newer disciplines of study. These include environmental psychology, cultural geography, presence, healthcare and architecture, and environmental design and planning. The study draws from evolutionary theory (geography and biology) to explain landscape preference. Jay Appleton's prospect refuge theory (Appleton, 1996) is the primary application being implemented in this study. Methods selected for this study come from restorative environments research (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989); healthcare and architecture (Ulrich, 1986, 2004; Cooper Marcus, 1999); and presence research (Ijsselstein, 2003, 2004; deKort, 2006). Category titles and definitions for image selection were gleaned from Appleton (1996). Environmental sampling criteria stemmed from Kaplan and Kaplan (1989). Operational definitions for therapeutic aspects came from Cooper Marcus and Barnes (1999). Phase one uses a sorting task to identify the best image for the categories of prospect, refuge, hazard, and prospect refuge mixed. First, an informal focus group sorted 72 landscape photographic images into the four categories. Using frequency analysis, the top five images for each category were identified, resulting in 20 images. Then, 100 students sorted the 20 images into the four categories. The most frequently selected image was identified for use in the phase two experiment. Results for phase one, the sorting task, are presented here. Phase two, to be implemented in the fall of 2008 will collect and compare physiological and psychological data in a clinical environment to determine which category of nature image is most therapeutic.


Keywords: Health and Nature, Restorative Environment, Prospect Refuge Theory, Therapeutic Art
Stream: Natural, Environmental and Health Sciences
Presentation Type: Workshop Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Ellen Vincent

Graduate Student, Environmental Design and Planning Program, Clemson University
Seneca, SC, USA

Ellen Vincent is a candidate in the Environmental Design and Planning PhD program at Clemson University. She is also Environmental Landscape Specialist for Clemson University’s Department of Horticulture. She holds a bachelor’s degree in American Culture from State University of New York at New Paltz and a master’s degree in horticulture from Northwest Missouri State University. Through the doctoral program she is studying the therapeutic benefits of nature. “I am drawn to the powerful relationships that exist between people and their natural environment,” she claims. “Understanding the physiological and psychosocial effects of this relationship should inform design and stimulate the creation of healing environments.”

Ref: I08P0859