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16. Nature Experience in Transactional Perspective


The author uses a 'transactional' perspective to review a wide range of literature investigating both the natural and built environment.

A 'transactional' approach to environmental psychology is described as one which takes an event as its unit of analysis: time and change are studied as an integral part of that event. An event can be described as a convergence in time and space of activities, people and setting (Altman and Rogoff, 1987).

This is contrasted with the 'interactional' approach. Here the interaction between person and environment is deconstructed into discrete elements and analysed through the interaction between psychological variables and natural features, modified by distinct personal, situational and temporal factors. A 'transactional' approach, by contrast, studies person-environment systems, formed and defined by the simultaneous and combined action of their aspects (Altman and Rogoff 1987).

MethodologyThe paper examines major theoretical and empirical studies.
ResultsHartig suggests that there is a close relationship between the natural and built aspects of the human environment, an 'experiential bond' which is evidenced by 'environmental evaluations, motivations for outdoor recreation, and benefits attributed to nature' (p17). Hartig advocates greater research of the behavioural implications of our conceptions of the natural and non-natural environment, including studies of the links between preferences, motivation and the benefits of nature. The author outlines the merits of a transactional approach to research on environmental policy and planning.
PublishedLandscape and Urban Planning 25: 17-36.
AuthorsHartig, T
PublisherElsevier Science Publishers B.V. Amsterdam.
Pricesubscription c. 613 p.a. (20)
Keywordsenvironmental psychology; transactional approach; environmental preferences.

An abstruse article which nevertheless contains some interesting notes. The author follows the route of previous reviewers in this field, by trying to find an overarching concept in which to develop a theoretical framework for further research.


Hartig reviews studies which could be loosely characterised as forming an 'interactional' perspective but which collectively support Hartig's central premise. It is suggested that research must take a holistic view of the interaction between people and their environments, and of their different experiences of 'natural' and 'human-altered' environments (p21).

Parallels are noted between transactional and phenomenological approaches (Altman and Rogoff, 1987): both approaches consider that "person and environment are mutually defining" (p19). However, Seamon (1982) in his review of phenomenological research highlights differences between the two approaches (e.g. transactional research can use existing explanations to account for an event and is not limited to qualitative descriptions of an event by the observer).


Hartig quotes Ittelson (1973, p18) to emphasise that individuals cannot be viewed independently from the situation in which they are placed, "nor is the environment encountered independent of the encountering individual". An important corollary of this is that people may evaluate situations and environments which have been selected for them by researchers, differently from the way in which they evaluate places which they encounter while acting on their own inclinations (p25 and see Hull and Stewart, 1992). Motivation may also reveal differences in the way people evaluate aspects of natural and man-made environments.

Benefits of natural experience

This paper includes a useful review of empirical research into the benefits of nature experience. In particular Hartig refers to Ulrich (1981) and to his study of the differential effects on recovery from stressful experience of videotaped displays of urban and natural scenes (Ulrich et al. 1991). Muscle tension, skin conductance, and pulse transit time were recorded and it was found that recovery trajectories differed for different types of environment viewed. In common with other, similar studies, natural scenes were seen to promote "positive psychological functioning" and recovery.

Parson's (1991) (reviewed separately) speculates that evolutionary theories of environmental aesthetics can be linked to the hypothesis that natural environments can be stress-reducing. Referring to Ulrich (1983), Parson's speculates that natural environments are not uniquely restorative but that urban environments are stressful because they are not discernibly habitable in evolutionary terms. This suggestion relies on the notion that there is an immediate affective response to environmental stimuli which can explain environmental preference (Ulrich 1983).

Other aspects of the benefits of nature are reviewed and used to establish Hartig's position that there is a distinction between the way the built and natural environments are viewed e.g.:

  • Kaplan (1983, 1985): studies linking residential satisfaction and proximity to nature.
  • R. Kaplan and S Kaplan (1989), Mang (1984), Hartig, et al. (1991): studies showing the benefits of natural scenes on the relief from attention fatigue.

Altman, I. and Rogoff, B., (1987). "World views in psychology: trait, interactional, organismic and transactional perspectives." in D Stokols and I. Altman (eds.) Handbook of environmental psychology. Vol. 1. Ch 8, pp. 245-281, New York: Wiley

Hartig, T., Mang, M. and Evans, G.W., (1991) Restorative effects of natural environment experiences. Environment and Behavior 23: 3-26

Hull, R.B. and Stewart, W., (1995) The Landscape Encountered while Hiking. Environment and Behaviour, 27 (3): 404-426

Ittleson, W., 1973. "Environment perception and contemporary conceptual theory." In W. Ittleson (ed.), Environment and Cognition. pp. 1-19. New York, Seminar Press.

Kaplan, R., (1983). "The role of nature in the urban context." In I Altman and J.F. Wohlwill, eds., Human Behaviour and the Environment: advances in theory and research, Vol. 6 pp. 127-161. New York: Plenum Press.

Kaplan, R., (1985). Nature on the doorstep: residential satisfaction and the nearby environment. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 2: 115-127.

Kaplan, R. and Kaplan, S., (1989). The Experience of Nature: a Psychological Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mang, M., (1984). Restorative effects of wilderness backpacking. Dissertation Abstract Int.,45(9), 3057-B.

Parsons, (1991) Potential Influences of Environmental Psychology on Human Health. Journal of Environmental Psychology 11(1)

Seamon, D. (1982) The phenomenological contribution to environmental research. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2: 119-140

Ulrich, R., (1981). Natural vs. urban scenes: some psychophysiological effects. Environment and Behavior, 13: 523-556.

Ulrich, R., Simons, R.F., Losito, B.D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M.A. and Zelson, M., (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology., 11: 201-230.