It’s only natural

Here’s a secret: I walk the long way to work. Why, you ask? Well, it makes me a better person, and not because of the extra calories I burn along the way! Researchers at the University of Rochester have found that exposure to nature can improve a person’s values and actions.

In one of a series of experiments, a sample of several hundred volunteers were instructed to immerse themselves in a scene which depicted either a natural environment or a man-made one (a sample pair of images is given below; they were paired to ensure there were similar compositional features and tones).

I know where I'd rather be! Source: Weinstein et al. (2009) - click for article

I know where I'd rather be! Source: Weinstein et al. (2009) - click for article

It was found that, in addition to past studies showing the personal benefits of getting in touch with nature (such as decreasing stress levels), people exposed to the natural environments tended to value community and closeness and were more generous than those viewing urban scenes.

“Overall, these results are interesting because they suggest that nature, which is inherently unrelated to human intervention, brings individuals closer to others, whereas  human made environments orient goals toward more selfish or self-interested ends.” – Weinstein et al. (2009)

The researchers are keen to study this effect in more detail, including moving from a self-reporting scoring system to more objective means, determining individual responses, and manipulating the conditions to narrow down the causes of the changes observed.

I strive to make time for the environment, whether it be surfing, hiking or just taking the extra couple of hundred metres to walk through the bush at the back of Molendinar on the way to work each day. I knew it made me feel good, but I didn’t know it was science!

Stopping to admire the details in nature is something everyone should make time for.

Stopping to admire the details in nature is something everyone should make time for.

Categories: environmentalism, Science | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “It’s only natural

  1. Anonymous

    Mate this is a cool blog. Its interesting to see the science behind it.

  2. Chad

    nature “brings individuals closer to others”,
    man made environments “orient goals toward more selfish or self-interested ends” (A)


    “exposure to nature can improve a person’s values and actions” (B)

    = creating goals inline with your own interest is wrong.

    As far as I can tell, statement A is made to look like a conclusion but its really a proposition. I dont think theres anything wrong with it if it is true. Though, when I think about everything it took to make the city landscape it fills me with reverence for man which may include reevaluation of my personal (self oriented) goals or result in a greater respect for other people in general. Its proposition B that I totally disagree with. Both propositions together result in the conclusion that community oriented values and actions are better than self oriented values and actions. Its sad to see that the concept selfish is even reworded into ‘self-interest’ and yet its still evaluated as lesser than ‘connectedness’. I think the scientific thing to do would have been to publish the results without the adhoc, “makes you a better person” (btw get your head out of your ass). How was that evaluation conceived? The philosophy of ultruism comes to mind. There is no objective reasoning behind it, behind the conviction that self interest is subpar to ‘connectedness’, ‘closeness’ and ‘community orientation’. self-interest is the primary value in every living thing. Other things like the charity and feeling of autonomy I am suspicious of too but wont get into it. oh and, THEY R GONNA MAEK IT MOAR OBJECTIVE?! NO WAI MANG!

    • davidpj

      You’re right. ‘Altruistic’ type words are evaluated above ‘self-interest’ type words in the paper. I don’t think this is “sad”. Publishing in science does not occur in an objective vacuum, and the ‘better person’ slant was heavily accentuated by the reporting (ie. me and the media release).

      You said “self-interest is the primary value of every living thing.” I disagree. In general, self-interest works to preserve the viability of an organism to a point where it can pass on its genes, which is the primary ‘value’ (I’m not sure what you meant by the term ‘value’ there). If self-interest was higher than reproduction, males would not engage in violent or risky behaviour to attract mates, and natural examples of altruism would not be observed.

      Humans, as far as we know, are able to stand even further away from this paradigm, and you have alluded to, but not presented, a derivation of why self-interest is more logical for a human in the context of modern society, than a position largely of self-interest but incorporating ideas and actions which benefit others.

      In the first experiment in the paper, the desirability of fame and fortune, used as measured of self-interest, were raised by man-made scenes, while the nature scenes raised the desirability of closeness and connectivity.

      Considering that social connectedness can lead to benefits to multiple individuals within a sphere of influence, in addition to having measurable physiological benefits for an individual in some situations (eg Ong and Allaire 2005 10.1037/0882-7974.20.3.476), I am curious as to why you object so strongly to this being reported as better than the alternative (ie, valuing fame and fortune).

  3. Pingback: Nature is cool « David Robertson


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