Psychological Restoration and the Effect of People in Nature and Urban Scenes: A Laboratory Experiment

Chris Neale, Stephanie Lopez, Jenny Roe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


It is well-evidenced that exposure to natural environments increases psychological restoration as compared to non-natural settings, increasing our ability to recover from stress, low mood, and mental fatigue and encouraging positive social interactions that cultivate social cohesion. However, very few studies have explored how the inclusion of people within a given environment—either urban or natural settings—affect restorative health outcomes. We present three laboratory-based studies examining, first, the effect of nature vs. urban scenes, and second, investigating nature ‘with’ vs. ‘without’ people—using static and moving imagery—on psychological restoration and social wellbeing. Our third study explores differences between urban and natural settings both with vs. without people, using video stimuli to understand potential restorative and social wellbeing effects. Outcome measures across all studies included perceived social belonging, loneliness, subjective mood, and perceived restorativeness. Studies 1 and 2 both used a within group, randomized crossover design. Study 1 (n = 45, mean age = 20.7) explored static imagery of environmental conditions without people; findings were consistent with restorative theories showing a positive effect of nature exposure on all outcome measures. Study 2 compared nature scenes with vs. without people (n = 47, mean age = 20.9) and we found no significant differences on our outcome measures between either social scenario, though both scenarios generated positive wellbeing outcomes. Study 3, conducted on Amazon Mechanical Turk, employed an independent group design with subjects randomly assigned to one of four conditions; an urban vs. nature setting, with vs. without people. We explored the effect of moving imagery on psychological restoration (n = 200, mean age = 35.7) and our findings showed no impact on belonging, loneliness, or mood between conditions, but did show that—regardless of the inclusion of people—the nature settings were more restorative than the urban. There were no differences in psychological restoration between nature conditions with vs. without people. We discuss the implications for restorative environment research exploring social-environmental interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6464
Number of pages20
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Psychological Restoration and the Effect of People in Nature and Urban Scenes: A Laboratory Experiment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this