A review of the limitations of Attention Restoration Theory and the importance of its future research for the improvement of well-being in urban living

  • Brittany N. Neilson Texas Tech University Department of Psychological Sciences 2500 Broadway St., Lubbock, TX 79409
  • Curtis M. Craig University of Minnesota Department of Mechanical Engineering 111 Church St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455
  • Alexandra T. Travis Texas Tech University Department of Psychological Sciences 2500 Broadway St., Lubbock, TX 79409
  • Martina I. Klein Texas Tech University Department of Psychological Sciences 2500 Broadway St., Lubbock, TX 79409


While there are benefits to urbanization, deviations from a rural lifestyle can pose an issue for psychological well-being, as there is limited access to restorative environments (e.g., nature; van den Berg, Hartig, & Staats, 2007). Given these concerns associated with increased urbanization, how can we implement components of restorative environments into urban settings? Towards that end, an understanding of the attributes of restorative environments is needed.            Attention Restoration Theory (ART; Kaplan, 1995) is the predominant theory identifying characteristics of nature that are thought to make it restorative. Albeit, these characteristics lack operational definitions, thus generating several methodological challenges in critically assessing ART. For example, a major component of restoration within the ART framework is soft fascination, which is an involuntary capturing of attention, but not in a dramatic fashion. However, there is no empirical support of nature’s ability to innately hold attention, and this poor understanding contributes to the challenges in developing an operational definition of soft fascination. We describe attributes of stimuli that are known to capture visual attention (e.g., salience; Ruz & Lupiáñez, 2002) and consider whether such attributes are consistent with the notion of soft fascination. Since ART evolved from literature on aesthetics and environmental preferences (e.g., Kaplan, 1987), a review of this literature may inspire new ways to define restorative characteristics of nature, and thereby, promote the implementation of these characteristics into built environments. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to integrate relevant literature from multiple subfields of psychology to inspire research that can employ new methodology and ultimately better our understanding of the mechanisms underlying restorative environments.


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