The restorative power of natural and built environments
This thesis explores the relationship between environmental affect and mental health using restorative theory as an organising framework. Environmental affect can be described as how the physical environment (home, park etc) and social context (being with a friend) influence emotion and thereby various activities and outcomes. Three types of psychological experiences are explored, theoretically grouped under the rubric “restorative”: discrete (short-term) psychological restoration, instoration (longer term strengthening of internal resources) and person-environment fit conceptualised as niche environments supportive of 1) personal goals and 2) mood regulation. Mixed research methods (qualitative and quantitative) were used to elicit the affective dimensions of different settings (natural vs. built-external vs. built-internal) across several different groups within the population. A key aim was to explore whether restorative experiences would differ between settings in adults and young people with and without mental health problems. Five studies are presented, each exploring one or more aspect of the three part restorative framework outlined above, with one additional study focusing on social restoration. Two aspects of psychological restoration are examined: firstly, mood and secondly, cognitive reflection (defined as “changes in perspective” on life tasks over time1) using personal project analysis (Little 1983). Evidence of discrete restoration: the research supports existing empirical evidence linking activity in natural settings with mood restoration and adds to the evidence base by showing the benefits also extend to manageability of life tasks. New evidence is provided showing people with variable mental health differ in their potential for restoration, both in terms of the intensity of the experience and in response to the places in which the process occurs. People with poor mental health experienced more intensive restoration in a natural setting, but also responded more favourably to the urban setting than people without mental health problems. Natural settings promoted a mental equanimity2 across individuals with variable mental health as compared to the built setting where group outcomes diverged. 1For simplification this is referred to as “mindset” in the research 2 A levelling out of mood differences iii Evidence of instoration; the research supports the notion that activity in green settings can sustain longer term instorative benefits in adults and young people with mental health problems including increased capacity for trust and recollection, exploratory behaviour and social cohesion. Evidence of person-environment fit: a. niche environments supportive of mood regulation: the research extends existing evidence by showing natural and built settings support the continuum of good mood as well as the negation of bad mood in young people. b. niche environments supportive of personal goals: natural settings support age specific needs in young people for new experiences and community cohesion (in the form of societal projects), two dimensions supportive of well-being. Affect was found to be a significant discriminator between settings with positive affect aligned with the natural environment. Conclusions: results are consistent with a restorative effect of landscape and suggest differing states of mental health moderate in restorative processes. The research has also shown that the built environment is potentially restorative amongst certain health groups. The affective quality of environments varies and the ‘personal project’ research has shown the potential impact on well-being. Items flagged for further research include firstly, the need for further evidence on the relationship between the challenge of green activity and self-esteem in poor mental health groups; and secondly, the need to identify exactly what aspects of the built environment cause restorative differences to occur (i.e. the social context v. physical).