Familiarity

Research has also confirmed that residence or familiarity can have a significant affect on landscape preference. ‘Residence’ is really just another way of evaluating familiarity because living in a particular environment means that we become familiar with it. Broadly speaking, the findings suggest that familiarity increases preference (Kaplan and Kaplan 1989; Herzog et al. 2000). The latter study compared Australians’ and Americans’ preference for Australian natural landscapes. The Australians gave their own landscape higher preference scores than the Americans. Within the Australian group, the Aboriginal respondents showed the highest overall preference, a finding perhaps explained by their greater familiarity with the landscapes in question.

The research into familiarity also suggests how this issue might influence the perception of different types of vegetation. An early study by Rachel Kaplan (1977a) compared preference and familiarity in relation to different views of a stormwater drain, ranging from very natural to highly engineered. An interesting finding emerged in relation to one very natural view of the drain: this view was low in preference for all except those respondents who indicated that it was similar to their own view of the drain. In Lyons’ study (1983), respondents showed higher preference for their own home ‘biomes’ (climatic zones with their own distinctive vegetation, for example northern coniferous forest). Thus, all respondents from the deciduous forest biome preferred this one to all others. Desert dwellers did not prefer the desert biome overall, but exhibited a higher preference for it than any other group. Dearden found that residents of low-density predominantly natural housing developments expressed higher preference for more natural scenes and vice versa (1984). So it seems that familiarity with more natural landscapes does enhance preference for these landscapes, and it is therefore logical to assume that familiarity with natural vegetation would produce an enhanced preference for more naturalistic ecological planting styles.

However, a word of warning should be sounded here. Not all the research into the effects of familiarity has produced straightforward or consistent results. Another early study by Kaplan (1977b) found that local people displayed lower preferences for roadside scenes from their region than visitors. The locals also preferred open forest to dense forest, whereas the visitors preferred forest to flat farmland without discriminating on the grounds of forest density. These findings may not necessarily contradict those suggesting a positive relationship between familiarity and preference. It may simply be that the relationship is more complex than first appears. There are a number of possible explanations for the findings but these are outside the scope of this chapter.