I gained BSc and MSc degrees in Psychology from Goldsmiths, University of London, before completing my PhD in Environmental Psychology at University of Surrey in 2015. I then undertook two postdoctoral research positions: first in the Department of Psychology, University of Tampere (Finland), funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and second at the Dyson School of Design Engineering, Imperial College London (UK). In 2019 I returned to University of Surrey as Lecturer in Environmental Psychology.
As an environmental psychologist I focus mainly on restorative environments, place experience, and links between environment and wellbeing. I also conduct research on consumer and user experience, especially with regard to improving perceptions and behaviours around goods and services. Before becoming a psychologist I trained in art and design, and I combine aspects of my work in environmental psychology with design thinking and research.
In the course of my work I have collaborated with a number of non-academic organisations, including the National Trust, Surrey Wildlife Trust, Heathrow and Gatwick Airports, the Cabinet Office, and Nestlé.
Areas of specialism
University roles and responsibilities
- Senior Professional Training Year (PTY) Tutor
- School of Psychology Research Committee (Early Career representative)
Affiliations and memberships
Business, industry and community links
In the media
My primary area of research concerns restorative environments, or those which help people to recover from stress and/or cognitive fatigue. These are often, but not exclusively, places in nature. I focus particularly on sensory experiences of these environments; e.g., how natural sounds such as birdsong can be perceived as restorative, and how we experience nature through touch and smell. I am also exploring how natural environments are related to creativity, and the extent to which urban settings can be perceived as restorative. I have collaborated with organisations such as the National Trust, Surrey Wildlife Trust, British Science Association, and Cabinet Office on links between environment and restoration/wellbeing, and am currently part of the Tranquil City project.
Place attachment and favourite places
Favourite places are examples of everyday settings towards which people feel a sense of attachment or emotional bond. I have published articles on how these places, and concepts of place attachment more widely, can be related to feelings of happiness, reduced stress, and perceived restorative potential. I am particularly interested in how memories of places that people are attached to can be involved in restoration. In my work I try to integrate understanding of place attachment and individual relationships with place into examination of the restorative benefits achievable in those places. Much of this work is conducted in collaboration with the EnviWell group at University of Tampere, Finland.
Consumer perceptions and behaviour
I have been conducting academic and applied research on consumer perceptions and behaviour since 2009. This mostly relates to experience of retail and service spaces, digital services, and consumer goods such as food and drink. I have worked with public, private, and third sector organisations such as i2 media research, Nestlé Research, RNIB, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, and Gatwick and Heathrow Airports.
- 2018 - present, Tranquil City: Tranquillity in the urban environment
- 2017 - 2018, Nestlé Research and Imperial College London: Consumption rituals associated with food and drink
- 2015 - 2017, University of Tampere: Links between place memory, place attachment, and restorative environments (collaboration with Prof. Kalevi Korpela, funded by the Leverhulme Trust)
- 2015, National Trust: Sleep, mood, and coastal walking (consultancy project)
- 2013, Cabinet Office: Links between socio-environmental factors and national wellbeing (funded by ESRC)
- 2012 - 2013, British Science Association and University of Salford: 'Calls of the Wild' mass participation experiment for National Science and Engineering Week
- 2011 - 2015, National Trust and Surrey Wildlife Trust: Restorative perceptions and outcomes associated with listening to birds (funded by an ESRC CASE award)
- 2010 - 2011, London Heathrow and Gatwick Airports: Passenger experience of airside environments
I regularly review manuscripts for academic journals such as Journal of Environmental Psychology, Health and Place, Environment & Behavior, Landscape and Urban Planning, and Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. I am an Associate Editor of Frontiers in Psychology (Environmental Psychology subsection).
Postgraduate research supervision
Current PhD supervision
- Tamala Anderson (primary supervisor): Psychological benefits of place attachment.
- Sadhana Jagannath (2nd supervisor): Psychological wellbeing in residential environments
- Mark Newman (2nd supervisor): Using virtual reality to explore how natural environments promote recovery from stress
- Chris Wiles (2nd supervisor): Virtual Reality (VR) representations of nature in a psychotherapeutic context
- Ruairi Patterson (3rd supervisor): Awe, emotions, and personality
Undergraduate and MSc supervision
I supervise dissertations on restorative environments, place attachment, sensory experiences of environments, and consumer psychology.
I am module convenor for Key Questions in Environmental Psychology (PSY3072/PSYM137). I also teach on Social Understanding of Science and Technology (PSY3109/PSYM117), Psychology of Architecture and Planning Research (PSYM142), General Psychology (PSY3095), Psychology in the Real World (PSYP0001), and Professional Skills and Applied Psychology (PSY2019). I am the Senior Tutor for the Psychology Professional Training Year (PTY).
I give guest lectures on environmental psychology at, for example:
- Center for Urban & Real Estate Management (CUREM), University of Zurich
- Institute of Facility Management (IFM), Zurich University of Applied Sciences
- Real Estate Center, Polytechnic University of Milan
Introduction. Virtual reality (VR) can be extremely useful in simulating nature when physical presence is not possible. Additionally, it allows for environments to be customised (e.g., weather, or topography) and facilitates the design of controlled experimental settings. However, VR can involve the use of expensive equipment and complex software to create highly realistic immersive experiences. But is it necessary for experiences to rival the latest Hollywood blockbuster? This paper explores whether such investment can be valuable in research on nature experiences. Studies. Two studies were conducted to examine how realism of environmental presentations impact affective responses and participant perceptions. Study One (n = 16) explored perceptions of the same lake presented to participants in the real world, in VR and as a video. Study Two (n = 120) compared participant’s affective responses to one of four possible virtual environments differing in level of realism (high or low) and type (natural or built). Results. Study One showed that experiences of VR presentations fell between real and video presentations. Study Two found that more realistic VR environments evoked more positive affective and serenity responses, as well as a greater sense of presence. In both studies, participants stressed the importance of naturalistic interaction, sensory immersion, and graphical realism in the experiences, which may help explain these effects. Conclusion. The level of realism that can be attained with VR does impact affective responses and perceptions. Investment in VR for future research can be highly beneficial.
There is a lack of consensus on whether preference informs evaluations of urban and natural scenes as psychologically restorative or instorative, or whether instorative perceptions inform preference. Perceptions of restorative potential and outcomes without a prior stress intervention are called instorative. In two online experimental studies conducted across long (N = 140) and short (N = 110) timeframes, we show a primacy effect for instorative perceptions; that is, evaluations of the instorative benefits of a scene are better predictors of ratings of preference than preference ratings of perceived instorative benefits. This was true for both natural and urban types of scenes. We found support for perceived instoration and affective appraisals being similarly strong and independent mediators. Their relative share in affecting preference or perceived instorativeness could not be reliably differentiated. Examination of thoughts, memories, and identity elicited by viewing such scenes may further clarify relationships between environmental preference and instoration.
Acoustic experiences of nature represent a growing area in restorative environments research and are explored in this narrative literature review. First, the work surveyed indicates that nature is broadly characterized by the sounds of birdsong, wind, and water, and these sounds can enhance positive perceptions of natural environments presented through visual means. Second, isolated from other sensory modalities these sounds are often, although not always, positively affectively appraised and perceived as restorative. Third, after stress and/or fatigue nature sounds and soundscapes can lead to subjectively and objectively improved mood and cognitive performance, as well as reductions in arousal, although some inconsistencies in findings are observed. Fourth, theoretical frameworks of restorative environments would benefit from inclusion of acoustic environmental properties such as sound intensity or frequency. Fifth, findings regarding positive, learned semantic associations with nature have arisen as a result of recent work on sounds and restoration. This represents another important area of potential theoretical development for broader restorative environments research.
Much research has focused on unwanted sound, or noise, and its links to poor health and wellbeing. In contrast, certain sounds - especially those drawn from nature - are linked to positive outcomes. There is increasing interest in identifying and protecting such sounds within cities to offer opportunities for psychological restoration or recovery. However, explanations of why certain sounds are perceived positively are limited. Theoretical development is needed in order to integrate available evidence into wider work on environment and wellbeing, and this should include attention to perceptual properties of sounds and their interpretations by listeners.
Previous research linking favourite places and restorative environments hypothesises that place memory and place attachment can be implicated in restorative perceptions of place. In the present study, conducted with an online paradigm, 234 Finnish residents rated an imagined favourite place on place memory properties, place attachment, and imagined restorative perceptions. Autobiographical and positive affective properties of place memory were consistently predictive of perceived restorative potential of place. Attachment in the form of place identity and place dependence also positively predicted of restorative perceptions, and mediated certain relationships between memory properties and restorative perceptions. These findings highlight the relevance of top-down processing of restorative environments according to past experiences and individual attachments. This understudied topic may shed light on semantic values underpinning restoration in a range of settings, including favourite places.
The purpose of the study was to investigate whether deliberate psychological tasks, intended to focus people’s attention on the interaction between themselves and natural surroundings, are linked with mood enhancement and self-reported restoration. In four European countries (Finland, France, Luxembourg, Sweden), we surveyed the experiences of volunteers (N = 299) who walked forest trails and carried out psychological tasks printed on the signposts along them. We investigated the similarities and differences of the trail experiences between the countries. Via multigroup modeling, we further examined the moderating role of nature-connectedness in relationships between satisfaction with the contents of the psychological tasks, mood enhancement, and restorative benefits. The results showed that, independent of age and gender, participants were more satisfied with the trails in Sweden and Luxembourg than in Finland. We detected no reliable differences in the restorative experiences or willingness to recommend the trail for others. In the moderation model, satisfaction with the signposts’ contents was connected to positive restorative change and mood enhancement. The moderator effects of nature-connectedness were not significant for either outcome. Thus, it is likely that satisfactory tasks will work equally well for people varying in nature-connectedness. This is a promising prospect for public health promotion. The fairly high level of nature-connectedness among the participants limits the generalizability of our results. Conclusions concerning the role of nature-connectedness should be made with caution due to the limited coverage of the concept in our measure. Future studies that separate the effect of psychological tasks from the restorative effects of nature itself are needed.
A healthy, balanced life is one that cares for physical, mental and social wellbeing. Cities can offer a vibrant social life, but may also pose risks to physical and mental health, including noise, air pollution, detachment from nature and compact living conditions. Rest and recuperation, essential to a positive state of wellbeing, are generally thought of as separate to cities, but urban environments may offer unexplored opportunities for tranquil experiences that support such processes.
Rituals are common in relation to consumption of food and drink, and are related to psychosocial benefits such as social bonding, affective change, and enhanced consumer perceptions. However, theoretical understanding of food and drink consumption rituals, and empirical examination of their effects and mechanisms of action, is limited. In this literature review we show a need for greater theoretical understanding of these rituals, and especially mechanisms linking ritual performance to outcomes. Such understanding would be greatly enhanced by a holistic model of consumption ritual and the development of an instrument that can be used to study different aspects of such rituals, both of which are currently lacking. We also highlight specific research questions regarding the cognitive, social, and affective outcomes of ritual consumption of food and drink, and the affective and cognitive-behavioural mechanisms that might precede them. We provide suggestions regarding the research paradigms and methods that might suit such questions, and encourage research along these lines of inquiry.
Natural environments, and particularly visual stimuli in nature, are usually perceived as restorative following stress and attention fatigue. Studies extending these findings to auditory natural stimuli have used soundscapes comprising multiple types of sound. Birdsong recurs as a type of sound used in such studies, but little is known about restorative perceptions of bird sounds on their own and how these may relate to existing theories of environmental restoration. Via semi-structured interviews with twenty adult participants, bird songs and calls were found to be the type of natural sound most commonly associated with perceived stress recovery and attention restoration. However, not all bird sounds were regarded as helpful for such processes. Three themes formed the basis of these perceived relationships: affective appraisals, cognitive appraisals, and relationships with nature. Sub-themes of the acoustic, aesthetic, and associative properties of bird sounds were also related to restorative perceptions. Future studies should quantitatively examine the potential of a variety of bird sounds to aid attention restoration and stress recovery, and how these might be predicted by acoustic, aesthetic, and associative properties, in order to better understand how and why sounds such as birdsong might provide restorative benefits. This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/J500148/1]; the National Trust; and the Surrey Wildlife Trust.
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that contact with natural environments can promote well-being and psychological restoration from stress and/or fatigue, especially in the short term (Hartig et al. 2014). Much uncertainty still exists regarding the types of natural environments and the environmental qualities that promote these beneficial outcomes (Hartig et al. 2014), and the role of biodiversity especially is still unclear. Given that biodiversity has been widely recognised as one of the key features that support the global ecosystem and, consequently, humanity (Cardinale et al. 2012), better understanding of the relationship between human well-being and exposure to biodiverse environments is needed. To assess the current evidence on this topic, we searched for peer-reviewed original research articles and reviews from several scientific databases. In this illustrative review, we assess and summarise the main findings with an emphasis on psychological perspectives.
Some, but not all, bird sounds are associated with perceptions of restoration from stress and cognitive fatigue. The perceptual properties that might underpin these differences are understudied. In this online study, ratings of perceived restorative potential (PRP) and aesthetic properties of 50 bird sounds were provided by 174 residents of the United Kingdom. These were merged with data on objectively measured acoustic properties of the sounds. Regression analyses demonstrated that sound level, harmonics, and frequency, and perceptions of complexity, familiarity, and pattern, were significant predictors of PRP and cognitive and affective appraisals of bird sounds. These findings shed light on the structural and perceptual properties that may influence restorative potential of acoustic natural stimuli. Finally, through their potential associations with meaning, these findings highlight the importance of further study of semantic or meaning-based properties within the restorative environments literature.
Top–down processing has been highlighted as a potential, but as yet understudied, aspect of restorative environmental experience. In an online study, N = 234 adults resident in Finland rated their favorite Finnish place on measures of perceived restorativeness, perceived restorative outcomes, and place attachment, and provided qualitative descriptions of the place and a positive memory associated with it. Thematic analysis of qualitative data revealed seven themes underpinning place memories: the environment itself, activities within it, cognitive responses, emotional responses, social context, self, and time. Mediated regression analyses showed positive and significant relationships between restorative perceptions and the presence of memories of self and time, as mediated via place attachment (place identity factor). These findings emphasize the contribution of the person to the perception of their restorative experiences in places, particularly in the form of personal memories that can enhance place identity.
Bird sounds are related to perceptions of attention restoration and stress recovery, but the role of associations in such perceptions is understudied. 174 adult residents of the United Kingdom rated 50 bird sounds on perceived restorative potential (PRP) and provided qualitative data on associations with each sound. Bird sounds were associated with imagined environments, birds and other animals, time and season, and activities within the environment. Bird sounds rated as high in PRP were associated with green spaces, spring and summer, daytime, and active behaviours in the environment. Low-PRP bird sounds were associated with exotic and marine environments, nonavian animals, and showed a non-significant trend towards associations with negative bird behaviour. These findings highlight connections between semantic values and restorative perceptions of natural stimuli. Such connections can inform top-down approaches to study of restorative environments and may benefit conservationists seeking to improve bonds between people and wildlife.
See Google Scholar for a list of my publications.