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13. The Dimensions of Aesthetic Preference: A Quantitative Analysis

DescriptionThis study sets out to assess the ability of physical, artistic and psychological descriptor dimensions to predict the aesthetic preferences for river, forest, and agricultural landscape scenes. An objective of this paper is to provide environmental managers with guidance on the appropriate choice of terminology to characterise and assess the aesthetic quality of particular landscape types.

The study used colour photographs of selected types of scenes, all taken in the summer to control seasonal effects. 74 college undergraduates participated in the study. The salient dimensions that subjects used to express their aesthetic preferences for scenes within each type of landscape scene were identified. These dimensions were interpreted quantitatively through correlation with sets of descriptor rating scales. The descriptors were identified from a review of 50 major empirical and non-empirical studies in landscape research literature.

The aims of the study were:

  1. to identify the dimensions untrained subjects used to make aesthetic preference judgements;
  2. to interpret these dimensions using physical, artistic, and psychological landscape descriptors;
  3. to assess the relative effectiveness of descriptors in predicting aesthetic preference within a landscape type; and
  4. to assess the relative effectiveness of descriptors across different landscape types.

In general, the results showed "a strong commonality in the dimensions of preference across landscape types".

A principle finding of this research was that the dimensions people use to make judgements about aesthetic preference can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The authors concluded that multidimensional scaling (MDS) was a useful base for defining the structure of aesthetic judgements. They shared the view of Oostendorp and Berlyne (1978) and Ward and Russell (1981), that MDS solutions are interpretable by multiple sets of properties.

PublishedJournal of Environmental Management, 29: 47-72.
AuthorsGobster, P.H. and Chenoweth, R.E.
PublisherAcademic Press Ltd.
PriceSubscription c. 285 p.a. (3)
Keywordslandscape perception; aesthetic preference; river, forest, agricultural, descriptor schemes, multidimensional scaling

The authors (p68) conclude that:

    "Aesthetic theories based solely on formal-artistic, bioevolutionary, or other single-set properties (i.e. physical-ecological, psychological-affective, etc.) may not do justice to the richness of human aesthetic response to landscapes. To build an aesthetic theory of landscapes, investigators need to broaden their understanding of the multi-dimensional nature of aesthetic preference."

This review is frequently cited along with Hull, Buhyoff and Cordell (1983) in discussion of landscape descriptor dimensions. It does perhaps illustrate the problems identified by Zube, Sell, and Taylor (1982) of trying to use landscape descriptors and predictors that don't fit together. It also reveals the theoretical void which Zube et al. (1982, p25) have identified in environmental aesthetics. Porteous (1996, p143) notes that by the mid-1980s traditional, laboratory based experimental models, of which this is a representative example, were considered inadequate for the task of understanding human-landscape interaction.


Hull, R.B. III, Buhyoff, G.J. and Cordell, H.K. (1987). Psychophysical models: an example with scenic perceptions of roadside pine forest.Landscape Journal 6: 113-122.

Oostendorp and Berlyne (1978). Dimensions in the perception of architecture III; multidimensional preference scaling. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 19: 145-150.

Porteous, J.D. (1996). Environmental Aesthetics. London: Routledge

Ward, L. and Russell, J. (1981). Cognitive set and the perception of place. Environment and Behavior, 13: 610-632.

Zube, E.H., Sell, J.L. and Taylor, J.G. (1982), Landscape Perception: Research, Application and Theory. Landscape Planning, 9: 1-33