Beautiful Residential Streets: Mystery, Prospect and Coherence Enhance Aesthetic Appreciation

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Aesthetic appreciation of the environment is essential because people who appreciate it as aesthetically pleasing, report more wellbeing. People who dislike the aesthetics of their surroundings, feel less happy and experience more stress. The two leading theories in this field have not been sufficiently tested in residential environments. This study aimed to test if and how the prospect-refuge theory of Appleton (1975) and the preference matrix of Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) could be applied at residential environments and if so, what the strongest significant individual predictors are. Seventy-five students (12 males) with a mean age of 21.9 (range 18-33) were included in this study. In a mixed-design, each participant rated on a computer the aesthetic appreciation of all 30 streetscape pictures. In a second and a third task, they gave their subjective scores for the predictors prospect, refuge, hazard and coherence, complexity, legibility and mystery for each picture. Results showed that both theories are applicable to residential streets. Of all predictors, in order of effect size, mystery, prospect, and coherence correlate (positively) with aesthetic appreciation. People like a residential environment if there is a lot of mystery, prospect and coherence. This is the first study with sufficient statistical power that tested all predictors of both models in a residential environment. These results contribute to a body of knowledge that is of great importance in practical application by governments, planners, project developers, and architects. Keywords: Psychological theory, Environmental preference research, Prospect-Refuge Theory, Preference-Matrix, Urban environment, Aesthetic appreciation
Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen