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31. Preference or Preferences for Landscape?


This is a research project concerned with examining the physical and cognitive aspects of places which influence preference. The research investigated the cognitive categorisation of landscape into different types.

It builds on research from Purcell and Lamb (1984) which suggested that the experience of landscape is structured round categories or more complex mental representations such as schemata. Purcell (1987, 1990) suggests that these schemata are the result of long term exposure to regularities in the environment.


Students from Italian and Australian universities were asked to judge two examples of twelve different types of scene from slides from their own countries. These judgements were recorded on a seven point scale in response to a pre-set sequence of questions:

  1. How much do you like the scene?
  2. How much would you like to live and work in this place?
  3. How familiar are you with this place?
  4. How much would you like to visit this place for a holiday?

Participants also categorised the scenes as either natural or built.


The results showed that preference is dominated by scene type. However there was a complex pattern of results which raised a number of theoretical issues.

  • The concept of landscape as an all embracing term is too simplistic: landscape is not experienced as a simple range of types in a linear fashion from built to natural.
  • A unitary measure of environmental preference may obscure differences in preferences which arise from people having different expectations of what a place can offer.
  • For some scene types, preferences differed according to whether a scene was judged to be natural or built. Scale and the presence of water also influence preference.
  • The study indicates that although there can be a variety of influences on preference, preference is strongly influenced by scene type. The effect is similar for both the Italian and Australian groups.
  • The authors suggest that the concept of landscape is a cognitive construct rather than a phenomenon based entirely on direct experience. (p207)
PublishedJournal of Environmental Psychology, 14: 195-209
AuthorsA.T. Purcell, R.J.Lamb, E. Mainardi Peron, and S. Falchero,
PublisherAcademic Press Ltd 
Pricesubscription c. £71 p.a. (4) 
KeywordsLandscape preference/ environmental preference/ environmental aesthetics

The paper reviews the concept of 'landscape' used in previous research (Kaplan et al. 1972, Ulrich 1981 and Brown and Daniel 1987) where a concept of 'naturalness' has been used to quantify preference. The landscape concept used in research is challenged by Purcell (1987) and Purcell and Lamb (1984) who consider that the term 'landscape' may mask the diversity of types of environments and mixtures of types of environments viewed by subjects. The authors conclude that variations in landscape type, and the way in which people categorise these types, may explain the range of preference judgements found when diverse sets of stimuli are used.

The paper also refers to previous research on preference judgements made by people from different geographic locations on the same set of slides, (Tips and Savasdisara, 1986, Zube and Pitt, 1981, Kaplan and Herbert 1987) but points out that this is the first piece of research concerned with groups of residents in different countries making judgements on comparable stimuli selected from within their own location.

The authors draw parallels with research by Herzog, (1984, 1985, 1987, and Herzog and Bosley, 1992) and Hull and Stewart, (1992). The authors interpret this research to support their view that a finer grained understanding of landscape type is required to interpret or predict preference judgements. Hull and Stewart, (1992) also assessed the differences which contextual effects had on judgements on scenic beauty. They found that mood, meaning and novelty of the same scenes were assessed and found to differ. From the results of this study by Russell, Lamb et al. (p. 207) the authors conclude that the contextual judgements referred to by Hull and Stewart (1992) are in some respects similar to the changing focus of preference used in their own study. The authors conclude that "each of these effects on preference results from cognitive coding of the scenes at a higher level than overall preference. Scenes not only have appearances, but also offer certain possibilities."

Russell, Lamb, et al. believe that future research should assess the cognitive coding effects on preference and the reasons respondents might give for preferences when these are judged from a different perspective.


Brown, T.C. & Daniel, T.C. (1987). Context effects in perceived environmental quality assessment: Scene selection and landscape quality ratings. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 7:233-250.

Herzog, T. R. & Bosley, P. J. (1987). Tranquillity and preference as affective qualities of natural environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 12:115-127.

Herzog, T. R. (1984). A cognitive analysis of preference for field-and-forest-environments. Landscape Research, 9: 10-16.

Herzog, T. R. (1985) A cognitive analysis of preference for waterscapes. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 5: 225-241.

Herzog, T. R. (1987) A cognitive analysis of preference for natural environments: mountains, canyons, deserts. Landscape Research, 6: 140-152.

Hull, R.B. and Stewart, W.P., (1992). Validity of photo-based scenic beauty judgements. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 12: 101-114.

Kaplan, R., and Herbert, E.J. (1987) Cultural and sub-cultural comparisons in preferences for natural settings. Landscape and Urban Planning, 14, 281-293.

Kaplan, S., Kaplan, R. & Wendt, J. S. (1972). Rated Preference and complexity for natural and urban visual material. Perception and Psychophysics, 12: 254-356.

Purcell, A.T and Lamb, R.J.(1984) . Landscape perception: an examination and empirical investigation of two central issues in the area. Journal of Environmental Management. 19, 31-63.

Purcell, A.T. (1987) Landscape perception, preference and schema discrepancy. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 14: 67-92.

Purcell, A.T. (1990) Abstract and specific physical attributes and the experience of landscape. Journal of Environmental Management 34: 159-177.

Tips, W.E. J. Savasdisara, T. (1986) The influence of the environmental background of subjects on their landscape preference evaluation. Landscape and Urban Planning, 13 (2): 113-24.

Ulrich, R. S. (1981) Natural versus Urban Scenes: Some Psychophysiological Effects. Environment and Behavior, 13 (5): 523-556.

Ulrich, R.S. (1986) Human Responses to vegetation and landscape. Landscape and Urban Planning, 13 (1) 29-44.

Zube, E.H. and Pitt, D.G. (1981) Cross-cultural perceptions of scenic heritage landscape. Landscape Planning, 8 (1): 69-87.