Forestry Commission logo

25. Environmental Aesthetics: Theory Research, and Applications

DescriptionA collection of essays from diverse fields including landscape architecture, environmental psychology and philosophy. The works include reviews of 'classic' theories and summaries of empirical data on preferences in the visual environment.
PublishedEnvironmental Aesthetics: Theory Research and Applications.
AuthorsNasar, J. ed.
PublisherCambridge NY: Cambridge University Press,
Price65.00 (out of print) 20.95 (paperback published 1992)
Keywordsenvironmental psychology; environmental aesthetics.

This is a diverse collection of essays on the aesthetics of the built and natural environment. The book provides some brief reflections on their own work by Stephen Kaplan and Jay Appleton for example, both reviewed below.

Jay Appleton, "Prospects and Refuges Revisited" Ch.3 pp 27-44

Appleton responds to critics and evaluates his theory's success. He asks: can it be substantiated/is it any use? He describes his original concept of prospects and refuges as a way of relating the idea of preference to a typology of landscapes through the medium of the biological and behavioural sciences. The concept isolates a set of circumstances and ignores the rest, based on the idea that men and women perceive their environment in similar way to the way animals perceive their habitat, i.e. "habitat theory". It is a 'reductionist's tool': prospects and refuges refer to concepts not objects. He cites the failure of empirical examination of theory by Clamp and Powell (1982) and relative success by (Woodcock 1982). Heyligers (1981) showed that whilst prospect/refuge can be useful in abstraction, aesthetic appreciation is a personal experience based on the integration of 'an environmental stimulus into one's own perceptual framework'.

Kaplan, S. "Where cognition and affect meet: a theoretical analysis of preference." Ch.5 pp 56-63

Kaplan contrasts preference as a aesthetic judgement or affect, concentrating on the complexity of stimulus; and preference as a cognitive response based on the evaluation of choices and risk, or 'decision-theory'

Kaplan cites Zajonc (1980), who implies that preference is not a product of a rational calculation, before concluding that there is more to cognition than conscious thought.

From the study of 'mystery' as a factor in preference he argues that there is an intimate relationship between cognition and affect. He adopts an evolutionary approach to analysis of preference stating that this can aid accurate prediction and also the understanding of how preference functions in the human psychological make-up.

This is a summary article trying to relate affect to cognition. Kaplan suggests areas of study could include ease of locomotion, depth, safety, and the possibility of acquiring new information, as variables. He recognises the influence of recognition and prediction in landscape preferences. He considers facets of 'affect' as pleasure/pain/interest and divides cognition into 'constant' (good, bad and interesting) and 'process' (managing uncertainty, recognising, predicting and evaluating).

A good historical perspective on the Kaplans' work is given in Porteous (1996). Parsons (1991) also explores the conflicts which emerged between the Kaplan and Ulrich approach to environmental psychology.


Clamp, P., and Powell, M., (1982), Prospect-Refuge Theory under test. Landscape Research 7: 7-8.

Heyligers, P.C. (1981), Prospect-refuge symbolism in dune landscapes. Landscape Research 6:7-11.

Woodcock, D.M. (1982), A functionalist approach to environmental preference. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Zajonc, R.B. (1980) Feeling and Thinking: Preferences need no Inferences. American Psychologist 35:151-175.

Other References

Parsons, (1991) Potential Influences of Environmental Psychology on Human Health. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11(1): 1-23

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