Forestry Commission logo

19. Environmental Preference: A Comparison of Four Domains of Predictors

DescriptionThe authors set out to examine four domains of variables which they have identified as useful in explaining environmental preference: physical attributes; land cover types; information variables; and perception based variables.
MethodologyThe study compared the effectiveness of the four domains as predictors of scenic beauty as well as examining the influence of particular variables selected in each domain. The report was based on photographs of a selected study area located in the Great Lakes Region. Photographs were selected which deliberately excluded various urban landscapes and also any scenes which included rivers and lakes. Researchers assessed each slide for predictor ratings which were compared to the preference ratings given by psychology students.

The researchers concluded that:

  • Physical attributes lacked predictive power;
  • Land cover types proved effective with weedy fields, scrubland and agriculture all significant negative predictors;
  • Of information variables (as described in Kaplan and Kaplan 1982) only mystery was significant;
  • Perception based variables were most effective, with 'openness' and 'smoothness' being most significant.
PublishedEnvironment and Behavior, 21 (5): 509-530
AuthorsKaplan, R., Kaplan, S. and Brown, T.
PublisherSage Publications, Inc.
Pricesubscription c. 183 p.a. (6)
KeywordsEnvironmental psychology, environmental preference,

This research build on earlier work by the Kaplans and is similar to a number of other studies.

The 'predictors' used in this study were drawn from previous research. In this case the predictors were sorted into four domains (p 511-520):

  1. physical landscape attributes of landform (slope/ relief; edge contrast; spatial diversity) and landcover (naturalism; compatibility; height contrast; variety.) (Zube, Pitt and Anderson, 1975).
  2. Land cover types: forest; cut grass; weedy field; agriculture; scrubland; woodlawn.
  3. Information variables: coherence; complexity; legibility; mystery. (Wohlwill, 1976; Kaplan, 1987; Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989).
  4. Perception-based variables which try to explore how one might move in the landscape: openness; smoothness; ease of locomotion. (Kaplan, 1985; Kaplan, 1987).

The study attempts to draw together various strands of research but fails to discover a coherent approach. The authors reach the tentative conclusion that predictors may vary in their effectiveness according to landscape type. Further research into landscape categories and variables which affect preference judgements using the research parameters set out in this study may be of limited use.


Daniel, T.C. and Vining (1983) "Methodological Issues in the assessment of landscape quality," in Altman, I. and Wohlwill, J. eds. Behaviour and the Natural Environment Ch. 2 pp39-83 New York: Plenum press

Kaplan, R. (1985), The analysis of perception via preference: a strategy for studying how the environment is experienced. Landscape Planning 12: 161-176.

Kaplan, R, and Kaplan, S (1989), The experience of nature: A Psychological Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kaplan, S. (1987), Aesthetics, affect and cognition; environmental preference from an evolutionary perspective. Environment and Behavior 19: 3-32.

Kaplan, S. and Kaplan, R. (1982) Cognition and Environment: Functioning in an Uncertain World, New York: Praeger.

Wohlwill, J.F. (1976) "Environmental Aesthetics: the environment as a source of affect", in I Altman and J.F. Wohlwill, eds., Human Behaviour and the Environment: advances in theory and research, Vol. 1 New York: Plenum Press.

Zube, E.H., Pitt, D.G. and Anderson, T.W. (1975), "Perception and Prediction of scenic resource values of the northeast," in Zube, E.H., Brush, R.O., and Fabos, J.G. eds. Landscape Assessment. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross.