Rita Berto

Rita Berto

University of Padova, Italy

Title: The engagement of fascination in the environment: Content or process?


Rita Berto, Ph.D., is a psychologist specialized in environmental psychology. She was Visiting Research Associate in Psychology (Honorary) at the Washington University in St. Louis (MO, USA), and professor of Environmental Psychology and Cognitive Psychology at the University of Padova. She conducts research on environmental preference from the life-span perspective, on the effects of exposure to natural environment on cognition, and on biophilic architecture. She is appointed reviewer for the most important journals of Environmental Psychology, her biography was included in Who’s Who in the World 2007. She is author of a book on Environmental Stress


Literature shows that restoration from stress and mental fatigue relates to exposure to Nature. Mental health services engage nature-related programs to provide opportunities that enhance multiple aspects of health and wellbeing. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, performance benefits from exposure to environments attracting effortless involuntary attention and demanding little voluntary attention; this process called fascination, mostly occurs in natural environments. The aim of this study was to verify whether the voluntary vs. involuntary attention is engaged by the naturalness category or by fascination itself. To this end the LZW algorithm was used to quantify the information to be processed in a scene of thirty-eight images depicting natural and built scenes, with both groups spanning the entire fascination range. Results showed that scenes that contain little redundancy are more fascinating, and natural scenes do not necessarily lead to more fascination than built scenes. However it is the combination of natural and built elements which invokes fascination, rather than the sheer number of visible natural elements. To know that also urban scenes may be highly fascinating can be of great help to city planners to promote psychological well-being as one aspect of public health (biophilic architecture), because urban environments should not compromise people’s need for mental restoration.