Journal of Environmental Psychology
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Compared to urban environments, interactions with natural environments have been associated with several health benefits including psychological restoration and improved emotional well-being. However, dichotomizing environments as either natural or urban may emphasize between-category differences and minimize potentially important within-category variation (e.g., forests versus fields of crops; neighborhoods versus city centers). Therefore, the current experiment assessed how viewing brief videos of different environments, ranging along a continuum from stereotypically natural to stereotypically urban, influenced subjective ratings of mood, restoration, and well-being. Participants (n = 202) were randomly assigned to one of four video conditions, which depicted a simulated walk through a pine forest, a farmed field, a tree-lined urban neighborhood, or a bustling city center. Immediately before and after the videos, participants rated their current emotional states. Participants additionally rated the perceived restorativeness of the video. The results supported the idea that the virtual walks differentially influenced affect and perceived restoration, even when belonging to the same nominal category of natural or urban. The pine forest walk significantly improved happiness relative to both urban walks, whereas the farmed field walk did not. The bustling city center walk decreased feelings of calmness compared to all other walks, including the tree-lined neighborhood walk. The walks also differed on the perceived restorativeness measure of daydreaming in a graded fashion; however, the farmed field walk was found to be less fascinating than all other walks, including both urban walks. Taken together, these results suggest that categorizing environments as “natural versus urban” may gloss over meaningful within-category variability regarding the restorative potential of different physical environments.