Landscape and Well-Being: Using Psychology to Inform Urban Planning


Previous studies on green spaces (characterized by the presence of leafy vegetation) versus blue spaces (characterized by the presence of aquatic features) found that participants exhibit preferences for blue spaces. One of the crucial questions is whether these preferences are matched by physiological responses. We found that participants exhibit a preference for aquatic compared to non-aquatic spaces. More importantly, we found that participants exposed to aquatic places showed a greater reduction in self-reported stress compared to the non-aquatic condition, but physiological measures did not show differential effects across conditions. Examining the interaction between physiology and self-reports on well-being, we found that psychological reactions (e.g., changes in valence and attractiveness due to exposure to nature related pictures) increased both self-reported and physiological well-being. In summary, our study provides evidence for the importance of aquatic features for psychological well-being and also highlights the importance of psychological evaluation of places that can lead to positive well-being. These findings have clear policy implications. While some features of spaces have beneficial effects for individuals, psychological evaluations of place attractiveness and valence show independent effects. Built landscape should incorporate regular community evaluations on attractiveness and valence to maximise the beneficial effects of spaces on individuals.

Wellington, New Zealand
Johannes A. Karl
Assistant Professor in Psychology