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).
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!