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Seeing our self reflected in the world around us: The role of identity in making (natural) environments restorative

Morton, Thomas A., van der Bles, Anne Marthe, Haslam, S. Alexander
Journal of environmental psychology 2017 v.49 pp. 65-77
cognition, ecological restoration, ecological value, hinterland, visual perception
Exposure to nature has been shown to restore cognitive capacities and activate intrinsic motivational states. The present research considered the role of salient identities in determining these effects. Three studies demonstrated that salient identities modify how people respond to natural environments. Exposure to images of natural environments increased the strength of intrinsic over extrinsic aspirations, and improved cognitive capacity, only when nature was central to a salient identity (Studies 1 & 2), or when the specific nature portrayed was connected to the salient identity (Study 3). Conversely, when nature was inconsistent with a salient identity, exposure had deleterious effects on aspiration and cognition. Together these studies suggest that the restorative potential of environments is determined, at least in part, by social and psychological processes connected to identity. These findings invite a more nuanced approach to understanding the possible psychological benefits of exposure to nature, and suggest that a variety of environments (natural and urban) can have restorative potential.