Aquariums as restorative environments

This PhD, funded by the National Marine Aquarium, aims to investigate how viewing different amounts of marine life can influence human health and wellbeing.

View the paper published in the journal Environment and Behavior

By using a range of lab- and field-based studies, student Deborah Cracknell is shedding light on people’s psychological and physiological responses to marine life, and exploring the potential for public aquariums to provide restorative experiences.

A growing body of research on environments that promote human health and wellbeing suggests that exposure to natural environments, and highly ‘managed’ settings such as botanical gardens, can have calming and stress-reducing effects.

Recent research on urban parks has also shown that people’s psychological responses can differ depending on the numbers of species present, and that greater wellbeing tends to be experienced in settings perceived to contain greater species richness.

Yet much of the empirical research focuses on the effects of greenspace – such as parks and gardens – on wellbeing, with relatively few studies exploring people’s responses to aquatic environments or so-called ‘bluespaces’.

Furthermore, only a small number of studies have explored whether people’s psychological and physiological responses differ to sub-categories of the same setting, or the biological components within them.

By conducting lab-based studies that compare the restorative potential of aquariums with that of more natural settings, this research will help to improve knowledge in these areas. It will provide evidence for how the types and quantities of marine life in an exhibit can affect people’s psychological responses.

Through a series of field studies it will also examine people’s psychological and physiological responses to different levels of fish in a public aquarium setting, shedding light on how numbers of aquatic animals are perceived.

This collaborative project between the National Marine Aquarium, University of Exeter and Plymouth University is supervised by Dr Mathew White, Dr Sabine Pahl and Professor Michael Depledge.

More information about initial results is available here.