A cross-cultural study of prospect-refuge theory

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Virginia Tech


Increasing international attention has been directed to the landscape perception research in the past three decades. Much research has been done. And there is a growing need for a consistent and comprehensive theoretical framework to guide the multi-disciplinary nature of the field.

Two broad bases for such a comprehensive theoretical framework have been identified: biological perspective and cultural explanation. This study is developed to validate one of the major theories in the biological perspective to landscape perception-- prospect-refuge theory. The theory postulates that landscapes with opportunities to see (prospect) and places to hide (refuge) are aesthetically pleasurable as they satisfy humans’ basic survival needs.

Landscape paintings of different historical periods in Chinese and Western cultures were adopted as a medium of study. Paintings representative of various historical periods and diverse styles were selected and rated for preference, prospect, and refuge by Chinese students and spouses at Virginia Tech.

The study found that Prospectrefuge symbolic system was present in Chinese and Western landscape paintings in different historical periods. However, no statistically significant support was found for the theory. The study concluded that prospect-refuge seems to be a common landscape perception system and seems to be biologically related. However, the validity of the prospect-refuge theory is still under question. More research is needed to understand humans’ common perception that are shared at the biological level.