An experimental test of the impact of avian diversity on attentional benefits and enjoyment of people experiencing urban green-space.
Biodiversity may play a key role in generating the well-being benefits of visiting green-spaces. The ability of people to accurately perceive variation in biodiversity is, however, unclear and evidence supporting links between biodiversity exposure and well-being outcomes remains equivocal. In part, this is due to the paucity of controlled experimental studies that deal adequately with confounding factors that covary with biodiversity. Attention restoration theory (ART) proposes that natural environments contain many softly fascinating stimuli that provide visitors with a sense of separation from their normal settings and routines, switching off direct attention and allowing recovery from attention fatigue. Increased biodiversity could increase these stimuli, and ART therefore potentially provides a mediating effect linking biodiversity to well-being. Here, we conduct a controlled experiment in which participants virtually experience urban green-space containing high and low levels of avian biodiversity (altered by manipulating bird song). Respondents accurately identified the contrast in biodiversity and reported greater enjoyment of the high biodiversity treatment than the low diversity control. Higher biodiversity did not, however, elicit greater self-reported stimulation or restoration, and did not increase perceived restorativeness scores or attentional capacity (quantified using the Digit Span Backwards attention test). Respondents that were more connected to nature, however, had greater attentional capacity following exposure to green-space. Our study provides rare experimental evidence that people can accurately detect variation in biodiversity, that high avian diversity boosts visitor perceptions of urban green-space quality, and that people with increased nature connectedness show enhanced attentional capacity following an exposure to green-space.