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A thought in the park: The influence of naturalness and low-level visual features on expressed thoughts


Kathryn E. Schertz
Omid Kardan
Hiroki P. Kotabe
Marc G. Berman



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Northern Research Station


Cognition. 174. 12 p.


Prior research has shown that the physical characteristics of one's environment have wide ranging effects on affect and cognition. Other research has demonstrated that one's thoughts have impacts on mood and behavior, and in this three-part research program we investigated how physical features of the environment can alter thought content. In one study, we analyzed thousands of journal entries written by park visitors to examine how low-level and semantic visual features of the parks correlate with different thought topics. In a second study, we validated our ecological results by conducting an online study where participants were asked to write journal entries while imagining they were visiting a park, to ensure that results from Study 1 were not due to selection bias of park visitors. In the third study, we experimentally manipulated exposure to specific visual features to determine if they induced thinking about the same thought topics under more generalized conditions. Results from Study 3 demonstrated a potential causal role for perceived naturalness and high non-straight edges on thinking about "Nature", with a significant positive interaction. Results also showed a potential causal effect of naturalness and non-straight edges on thinking about topics related to "Spiritual & Life Journey", with perceived naturalness having a negative relationship and non-straight edges having a positive relationship. We also observed a significant positive interaction between non-straight edge density and naturalness in relation to "Spiritual & Life Journey". These results have implications for the design of the built environment to influence human reflection and well-being.


Schertz, Kathryn E.; Sachdeva, Sonya; Kardan, Omid; Kotabe, Hiroki P.; Wolf, Kathleen L.; Berman, Marc G. 2018. A thought in the park: The influence of naturalness and low-level visual features on expressed thoughts. Cognition. 174. 12 p.


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