Department of Landscape Architecture, Tunghai University, Taichung, Taiwan
Received 15 September 2021, Revised 29 August 2022, Accepted 8 September 2022, Available online 13 September 2022, Version of Record 15 September 2022.
Handling Editor: Tenley Conway


With the growth of urbanization and the increasingly hectic pace of life, exposure to urban nature within blue-green infrastructure is greatly impacting human health and well-being. Biophilia, an evolutional concept, conveys the initial connection between humans and nature; biophilic design transfers into design attributes to indicate the relationship between humans and the environment. A significant advantage of experiencing nature is positive restoration; however, only limited research has been conducted on connecting biophilic design and mental health. This study adopted our perceived biophilic design items (PBDi) to examine the relationship between landscape preferences and emotional states in urban green spaces. Online surveys (valid total n = 477) examining these biophilic items, landscape preferences, and emotional states were conducted. Seven aspects—(1) evolved human–nature relationships, (2) place-based relationships, (3) visual aesthetic quality, (4) state of natural change, (5) environmental perception, (6) sense of compatibility in the built environment, and (7) natural form of design method —were confirmed through exploratory factor analysis (EFA), with 64.35 % of the cumulative variance, and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) demonstrated good convergent validity and discriminant validity. The overall perceived biophilic design scale (PBDs) with 28 items had a Cronbach’s α of 0.91. In addition, it was found that PBDs significantly explained landscape preferences and positive emotional states within urban nature. The findings provide an alternative tool for measuring human biophilic perceptions that influence environmental experiences. In addition, each item in the scale could be used as a biophilic guideline for designers and planners to reinterpret nature in cities and to enhance our connection to nature in general.


Humans use sensory experiences to comprehend the environment, urban areas being no exception. Biophilia, which is associated with a love for nature, describes a psychological state that, through the evolutionary process of survival, reacts to the physical environment and generates a tendency to connect with nature (Kellert and Wilson, 1993, Wilson, 1984). The biophilia hypothesis, as relevant to the five biophilic values—naturalism, aesthetics, symbolism, humanism, and moralism—is connected with contact, beauty, meaning, emotion, and compassion, all of which predict the connection between nature and the physical environment and associated health benefits (Lumber et al., 2017, Lumber et al., 2018). One of the more intriguing questions prevalent throughout the last few decades is what biophilic design is and how it impacts our perception of nature and well-being.

Landscape designers use natural elements and topography to balance nature and the built environment, thereby making urban environments more livable and appealing. Such a design approach is related to biophilic design. The biophilic design proposed by Kellert et al. (2008) is a landscape architectural method that includes natural elements, patterns, and ecologies, such as trees, water, and natural lines, in the built environment. It contains two dimensions: (1) “organic or naturalistic,” which refers to environmental features, natural shapes, forms, patterns, and processes, and (2) “place-based or vernacular,” which refers to place-based relationships and evolved human–nature relationships (Kellert et al., 2008). These concepts indicate that integrating the biophilic into life is an approach to providing a sense of comfort and connection, as well as health benefits (e.g., attention restoration, positive emotion, reducing physiological and psychological stress) (Browning et al., 2014, Gillis and Gatersleben, 2015, Hung and Chang, 2021, Kellert et al., 2008).

One study used eight perceived sensory dimensions (i.e., prospect, refuge, species, culture, nature, social, space, and serene) as a tool to comprehend how humans interact with urban nature and to predict one’s preference, attitude, and willingness to use in the urban green space (Chen et al., 2019). This research recommended applying biophilic design with natural features and settings to support the connection with urban nature in social, ecological, and individual aspects. Other studies indicated that urban aesthetic attributes (Hidalgo et al., 2006), which refer to the biophilic—the visual quality of plants, elements, and spaciousness—could be important in urban natural design to foster a sense of harmony, preference, and restorativeness (Berto et al., 2015, Wang et al., 2019). Several review studies have examined the effects of human experience with nature via different landscape typologies, the duration and frequency of connecting to nature, and green activities on physiology and psychological health (Barbiero and Berto, 2021, Bratman et al., 2019, Collins et al., 2020, Meredith et al., 2020). In addition, various studies have tested restorative benefits, preferences, and emotional states, but few studies have sought to precisely explain which perceived biophilic attributes could affect the human–nature relationship. Therefore, to strengthen the value of exposure to nature and health, we argue that there is a tendency to put the biophilic into practice.

As Kellert et al. (2008) (p. 5) stated, “restorative environmental design, an approach that aims at both a low-environmental-impact strategy and a positive environmental impact or biophilic design approach that fosters beneficial contact between people and nature in modern buildings and landscape.” In contrast, there is a gap between perceived biophilic design and human health due to the lack of a measurement scale. Therefore, in the following, from the above reasoning and related descriptions, we discuss evidence-based studies on landscape and human health that have developed the perceived biophilic design scale (PBDs) in the context of the built environment.

For more than 30 years, research on nature-related experiences has continued to expand dramatically. The relationship between landscape and human health has roots in evolutionary theories. The prospect and refuge theory of how humans observe environmental information immediately and without being seen infers our basic survival skills in the biosphere (Appleton, 1975), which could influence one’s perceptions and preferences. For example, a savanna-like environment provides an open terrain with scattered trees, and visual accessibility is what humans prefer. Moreover, it could compel humans to explore and obtain resources (e.g., water, vegetation, flowers, trees). In addition, this kind of landscape could influence emotional reactions and survival instincts (Balling and Falk, 1982, Heerwagen and Orians, 1993, Orians and Heerwagen, 1992). These theories indicate that part of biophilia is based on evolution (Barbiero and Berto, 2021), which explains the benefits of natural connection, such as attention restoration and stress reduction for a better life. The related theories on environmental psychology, perceptions, and reactions are listed below:

  1. Attention restoration theory (ART): Exposure to a natural environment with restorative characteristics—being away, fascination, extent, and compatibility—could restore direct attention from fatigue. Specifically, fascination includes involuntary aspects and aesthetic experiences, which play a role in attracting human attention directly from information richness and lead us to explore and discover the place. The above statements relate to landscape preference ratings (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989) and to understanding and exploring the content and spatial configurations in the environment (Kaplan, 1987, Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989). It also refers to the aspects of the evolved human–nature relationship in biophilic design.
  2. Stress reduction theory (SRT): SRT emphasizes that viewing or visiting the natural environment after stressful situations could restore one’s emotional and physiological processes to a better state (Ulrich, 1984). Studies have shown that exposure to nature reduces the level of physiological and psychological stress (Berto, 2014, Shuda et al., 2020, Yao et al., 2021). Moreover, one study pointed out that, in contrast to non-biophilic buildings, large parks with plants bolster restorativeness and reduce negative emotions and perceived stress (Martínez-Soto et al., 2021). These statements indicate that nature in urban or public spaces with water features, plants, trees, etc., affects one’s restorativeness and health.
  3. Sense of place or spirit of place: Recognizing and connecting to a site enhances a psychological state related to the relationship between humans and place (Relph, 1976). The psychological place connection in the built environment could be inferred from the use of materials, cultural aspects, geographical context, etc., which is related to the aspect of the place-based relationships in biophilic design.
  4. Traditional environmental Qi: Taoism, Confucianism, and Feng Shui are the central philosophical and environmental concepts that deeply affect the relationship between the environment and humans in the East. Chou et al. (2020) determined the composition and configuration of natural elements and their microclimates in their surroundings. The balance between organic and inorganic in a Qi setting could elicit health benefits.
  5. Emotional states: Natural landscapes provide either positive affection (i.e., biophilia) or negative emotion (i.e., biophobia), which influences subjective experiences when evaluating and responding to stimuli (Kellert and Wilson, 1993, Ulrich, 1993). Ulrich (1983) argued that aesthetic experiences (like-dislike) and emotional experiences (e.g., wakeful relaxation by detecting the alpha wave and positive emotion) directly affect experiences with nature.

Urban nature relative to the urban environment is now widely recognized as fulfilling human needs and providing health benefits. The benefits of experiencing natural environmental attributes in urban settings, such as the degree of awareness of greening (Lin et al., 2014) and indigenous materials with a sense of place bonding (Liu et al., 2020), are considered to have an essential connection to psychological benefits. Researchers have stressed that different emotional meanings within landscapes regulate users’ behaviors in green spaces and the benefits they receive from them (Korpela and Ylén, 2007). Most health-related studies in urban nature focus on restorative benefits and aesthetic perception. At the same time, it is worth linking the perceived design methods with better knowledge of the effects of perceived physical attributes, landscape preferences, and positive emotions in the built environment.

On the other hand, having a favorite place means that the effects of places with emotional connections are different from those of other built environments and are associated with restorative attributes (Korpela and Hartig, 1996). Schebella et al. (2017) stated that favorite outdoor places could be national parks, community parks, linear parks, botanical gardens, etc., which correspond closely to the fascination attribute provided by nature. Orderliness with visual accessibility reflects a state in the environment that provides a sense of safety, fosters landscape preferences, and influences emotional states (i.e., positive/negative affect) (Bakker et al., 2014, Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989). Well-maintained green spaces, such as urban forests, parks, gardens, and watersides, tend to be preferred over those without natural elements in one’s favorite place and affect one’s restorative experiences (Korpela and Hartig, 1996, Korpela et al., 2009). In summary, researchers infer that the built environment provides fascination and natural elements with coordination of information richness, which could stimulate sensory perception and lead to human affectional attraction to urban nature.

Less attention has been paid to how to measure the benefits of bringing nature to life as a “biophilic design method.” The specific aim of this research is to develop the first version of the PBDs to measure the human–nature experience in the built environment. In addition, favorite places can evoke strong perceptions and elicit emotional affection. Therefore, we hypothesized that the perceived biophilic design scale could elucidate the biophilic features concerning landscape preferences and emotional responses in the built environment based on characterized landscape attributes and the relationship between humans in nature.

Section snippets

Materials and methods

The Research Ethics Committee approved this study from National Taiwan University (202103HS019). All participants signed an online informed consent form via the data collection platform. During the COVID-19 pandemic, an online survey was used to collect data through snowball sampling via social media from the platform of communication groups containing graduates and students at National Taiwan University, National Chung Hsing University, and National Pingtung University of Science and


The online data collection system (SurveyMonkey) registered 760 subjects, including 50 participants who declined to complete the questionnaire, 161 who provided incomplete data, and 549 who completed the study. Three participants completed the questionnaire more than once, leaving 546 (71.84 %) participants with complete data for further analysis. With a preliminary check of valid questionnaires with the guidelines’ criteria (e.g., no conflicting answers between items), 477 pieces of accurate


This study provided evidence based on the development of a measurement scale of biophilic design factors through conceptual and statistical analysis to explain how nature in the life of the design method influences human perceptions. According to EFA and CFA, our PBDs yielded seven aspects within 28 items that could be employed to interpret the concept of biophilic attributes of human–nature experience in the built environment.


Bringing nature back into the city is not a new idea and is a critical issue for health. Our research developed PBDs to evaluate what landscape attributes urban nature provides to us and how humans comprehend biophilic features through their perceptions. The PBDs presented good reliability and validity as an alternative scientific tool to examine human interpretations and perceptions of the built environment. In addition, the tool reveals to the general population that humans perceive a…

CRediT authorship contribution statement

Shih-Han Hung: Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal analysis, Investigation, Validation, Data curation, Writing – original draft. Chun-Yen Chang: Conceptualization, Validation, Supervision, Project administration, Funding acquisition.

Declaration of Competing Interest

The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.


This study was supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology (109-2410-H-002-170-MY2), Taiwan. This article was modified from a doctoral dissertation, “A Comprehension of Perception of Human-Nature Experience and Health Benefits in Urban Green Space.” The authors thank the editor and the reviewer for their insightful feedbacks. We also thank all participants for joining the online experience during the Covid-19 period.

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