Rachel Kaplan Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus

Ph.D. Psychology, 1962, University of Michigan

A.B. Philosophy, 1958, Oberlin College

Some environments bring out the best in people; many do not. That constitutes a puzzle that takes many directions, including: (1) the importance of the natural environment; (2) ways to make environments both understandable and interesting; (3) approaches to meaningful participation in environmental decision-making; (4) exploration of ways to conceptualize and assess effectiveness and well-being.

Rachel Kaplan is the Samuel Trask Dana Professor of Environment and Behavior.

Research Interests:

Central to the research program is a conceptual framework -- the Reasonable Person Model -- that views humans as information-based organisms who want to know, want to explore, and want to take action. Unfortunately, our information-rich world is also the source of much that undermines human effectiveness. Trying to understand the role the environment plays in helping people become more reasonable, effective, and psychologically healthy has taken the research in many directions.

Environmental preference: Many aspects of the natural environment are greatly preferred; "nature" in this context does not need to be remote and pristine. Strikingly consistent preference patterns have been found across many populations and places. What these have in common is that they support human needs. Thus rather than considering preference as an amenity it is a reflection of what fosters reasonable behavior.

Restorative opportunities: What is popularly called "being stressed out" may more accurately be a reflection of a worn out attentional capacity. Recovering from this all too common state is aided by settings which minimize demands on our attention. Such restorative experiences can be of very short duration, perhaps helping explain why having nature in the view from the window has such pervasive psychological impacts.

Expertise and engagement: Being involved, part of the action, needed by others; these all enhance people's sense of competence and meaningfulness. Yet they are often undermined by decision-making processes that, though well intended, assume what is best for others. Mechanisms that foster involvement and participation can do a great deal to bring out the best in people and, at the same time, lead to solutions that are environmentally reasonable as well.

Current/Recent Research:

Psychological dimensions of sprawl. Across the nation forest and farmland are giving way to big homes on big lots. Some cities and townships are experimenting with arrangements that reduce the lot size and preserve some land as a shared resource, providing more continuous ecological corridors. Compared to the all too common sprawl patterns, how do these alternative arrangements fare in terms of sense of community and well-being?

The local planning process. While sprawl is evident across the nation, each development is the result of a local decision-making process. What information sources lead to these decisions and what kinds of imagery would help those involved in the planning process anticipate future consequences?

The view from the window. A window is a source of light and a gateway to a world beyond. What difference does it make in people's well-being and is that a function of what is in the view?

Patterns of involvement. Environmental stewardship provides an excellent example of participatory activities in a natural setting that provide opportunities to gain competence and enhance one's identity. How effective are these activities in promoting restoration and reasonableness?

Selected Publications:

  • R. Kaplan and S. Kaplan (1989) The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • R. Kaplan (1995) Informational issues: A perspective on human needs and inclinations. In G. A. Bradley (Ed.) Urban forest landscapes: Integrating multidisciplinary perspectives. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Pp. 60-71.
  • R. Kaplan (1996). The small experiment: Achieving more with less. In J. L. Nasar and B. B. Brown (Eds.) Public and private places. Edmond, OK: Environmental Design Research Association. Pp.170-174.
  • R. Kaplan, S. Kaplan, and R. L. Ryan (1998) With people in mind: Design and management of everyday nature. Washington, DC: Island Press.
  • R. Kaplan (2001) The nature of the view from home: Psychological benefits. Environment and Behavior, 33, 507-542
  • R. L. Ryan, R. Kaplan, and R. E. Grese (2001) Predicting volunteer commitment in stewardship programs. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 44(5),629-648
  • R. Kaplan, and S. Kaplan (2003) Health, supportive environments, and the Reasonable Person Model. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9), 1484-1489
  • R. Kaplan, M. E. Austin, and S. Kaplan (2004) Residents' perception of open space: Comparison of traditional and open space communities. Journal of American Planning Association, 70(3)
  • J. Kim and R. Kaplan (2004) Physical and psychological factors in sense of community: New urbanist Kentlands and nearby Orchard Village. Environment and Behavior, 36(3), 313-340
  • R. Kaplan and S. Kaplan (2005) Preference, Restoration, and Meaningful Action in the Context of Nearby Nature. In P. F. Barlett (Ed.) Urban place: Reconnecting with the natural world. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Pp. 271-298)
  • R. Kaplan, J. E. Ivancich, and R. De Young (2007) Nearby nature in the city: Enhancing and preserving livability. Retrievable from DeepBlue: http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/48784.
  • R. Kaplan, S. Kaplan and M. E. Austin (2008) Factors shaping local land use decisions: Citizen planners' perceptions and challenges. Environment and Behavior, 40(1), 46-71.
  • A. R. Kearney, G. A. Bradley, C. H. Petrich, R. Kaplan, S. Kaplan, and D. Simpson-Colebank. (2008). Public perception as support for scenic quality regulation in a nationally treasured landscape. Landscape and Urban Planning. 87(2), 117-128.
  • R. Kaplan and S. Kaplan (2008) Bringing out the best in people: A psychological perspective. Conservation Biology, 22(4), 826-829.
  • R. H. Matsuoka and R. Kaplan (2008) People needs in the urban landscape: Analysis of Landscape and Urban Planning contributions. Landscape and Urban Planning, 84(1), 7-19.
  • S. Kaplan and R. Kaplan (2009) Creating a larger role for environmental psychology: The Reasonable Person Model as an integrative framework. Jouranl of Environmental Psychology, 29(3), 329-339.
  • R. Kaplan (2011) Intrinsic and aesthetic values of urban nature: A psychological perspective.  In I. Douglas, D. Goode, M. Houk, and R. Wang (Eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Urban Ecology. London: Routledge. (Pp. 385-393.)
  • R. Kaplan and S. Kaplan (2011)  Anthropogenic / anthropogenerous: Creating environments that help people create better environments. Landscape and Urban Planning, 100, 350-352.
  • R. Kaplan (2011) Wetlands from a psychological perscpetive: Acknowledging and benefitting from multiple realities. In B. A. LePage (Ed.) Wetlands: Integrating multidisciplinary concepts. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer Science. (Pp. 155-170.)