Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

March 17, 1999

'Beauty in eye of beholder' misleading

Beauty is not really in the eye of the beholder, research by a University of Guelph professor shows. Rather, nearly everyone has the same tastes when it comes to comeliness -- and is willing to pay big bucks to look at it.

"People appreciate natural beauty -- to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars," said Nathan Perkins, from the School of Landscape Architecture in the Ontario Agricultural College. Perkins has conducted a number of studies on the psychological, physical and economic impact of scenic beauty. His research examines all aspects of beauty: what is considered beautiful, what draws people to beauty, how it makes people feel, and what amount they are willing to pay to add beauty to their lives.

Perkins said that about 90 per cent of people can agree on what is beautiful, and the No. 1 choice is usually scenic beauty: forests, lakes, rivers, canyons, even trees in residential neighbourhoods. People want to be near that beauty, and will go out of their way to make it part of their lives -- even if they have to pay for it.

For example, one study Perkins helped conduct revealed that people are willing to pay thousands more dollars for homes with yards that include large trees. Research subjects were shown photos of identical homes in various locations and asked to list the amount of money they would be willing to pay. The findings show that homes with large trees have a higher value -- about $10,000 to $15,000 more per tree. "That is a significant amount of money, especially when it would cost a builder about $300 extra to include the trees at the time of construction."

But, Perkins added, despite the obvious value of beauty, it is rarely used as a selling point. "Instead, people always talk about soil as a resource, trees, water use, land use and preservation. What they are really talking about is beauty," he said. "What I study is how to evaluate and assess what is and isn't beautiful and how to put a value on it."

Perkins also studies the link between beauty and health. It has already been proven that patients who have beautiful views or look at beautiful things can experience shorter hospital stays and quicker recoveries, his research examines the physical and psychological effects of scenic beauty.

One study was conducted at the Homewood Health Centre, a large psychiatric hospital in Guelph located on 55 acres of woods and green space near the Speed River. Involving both patients and staff, the research examined people's moods, and what outdoor areas of the hospital they were most attracted to. The findings show that being outdoors fosters calm, peaceful feelings, and that people prefer those setting even when their emotions run the gamut. "Beauty does good things for people, and in a broad sense, everyone can agree upon what is beautiful," Perkins said.

Contact: Prof. Nathan Perkins, School of Landscape Architecture, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 8758. For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3338.

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