How forests may support psychological restoration: Modelling forest characteristics based on perceptions of forestry experts and the general public

Birgit M. Probst, Astor Toraño Caicoya, Torben Hilmers, Kilian Ramisch, Tord Snäll, Jonathan Stoltz, Patrik Grahn, Michael Suda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Spending time in forests benefits human well-being, but the importance of forest characteristics on well-being is unclear. This knowledge could help guide forest management decisions to improve outcomes for both people and nature. The overall aim of this study was to investigate how psychological restoration, defined as psychological recovery processes in nature, may be supported by forest characteristics. We (1) investigated how perceptions of restoration (perceived restorativeness) were linked to specific forest characteristics. More specifically, we selected attributes included in nature protection legislation in Germany (beauty, diversity and uniqueness) as the basis to evaluate how forest characteristics were related to perceived restorativeness. Additionally, we (2) tested differences in the assessments of these attributes between forestry experts and people from the general public. Based on the results of the first two objectives (1, 2), we (3) predicted how forest management that affects forest characteristics may impact psychological restoration today and in the future. We developed a perceived restorativeness model based on attributes stated in the German Nature Conservation Act and specific forest structure variables. Drawing from the literature, we included perceived naturalness as an additional key predictor for restoration. Forestry experts and participants from the general public were then asked to rate computer-generated forest stand pictures on these attributes and restorativeness. We found that all attributes were positively associated with perceived restorativeness, but perceived beauty was most important. Perceived uniqueness was statistically significant, but the strength of the relationship was weak. Mixed forests were rated as most beautiful, while coniferous forest stands were rated as least beautiful. The general public gave higher ratings than forestry experts on all attributes, but the pattern was similar. Based on participant ratings, forests left without management (Set-aside), followed by forests with management aiming for resilience to climate change (Adaptation forestry), both supporting biodiversity conservation, showed the highest perceived restorativeness over the course of 100 years. Based on our results, it could be recommendable to increase forest diversity, especially in areas with many visitors. However, more nuanced knowledge involving diverse stakeholders is needed to inform forest management decisions on landscape level. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPeople and Nature
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Keywords

  • forest diversity
  • forest management
  • forest structure
  • human restoration
  • perceived beauty
  • perceived restorativeness
  • scenario simulation
  • well-being

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