Exploring the Restorative Effects of Nature: Testing A Proposed Visuospatial Theory
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In this thesis, the restorative effects of exposure to nature are examined through the lens of existing restoration theories. Limitations of existing theories, such as Attention Restoration Theory and Psycho-evolutionary Restoration Theory, are highlighted. To address the limitations of existing theories, an expanded theoretical framework is proposed: The expanded framework introduces a newly proposed neural mechanism and theory of restoration that build on existing theories by proposing a link to recently discovered reward systems in the ventral visual pathway. Results from six experiments provide consistent evidence to suggest that positive and negative responses to visual scenes are related to the low-level visuospatial properties of the scenes. Specifically, a discovery is made to suggest that the power of a limited visual spatial frequency range can consistently predict responses to natural, urban, and abstract scenes on measures of restoration (blink-rates, number of fixations, self-reported stress and pleasantness). This provides the first evidence to suggest that low-level visual properties of scenes may play an important role in affective and physiological responses to scenes. Furthermore, this newly discovered relationship provides a new way to objectively predict the relative restorative value of any given scene.