Since the beginning of our existence, human beings have continuously been interacting with nature. Mother nature has been affiliated with our evolutionary process and brought us to where we are today. It has only been in the last several thousand years that human beings have developed techniques that has eluded us from nature. The development of urban areas has reduced natural environments globally, so have we lost our affection for nature?
Not according to studies focusing on ‘environmental psychology’. They show that humans still have positive reactions on nature and natural environments, a so called ‘biophilia’. One of the most famous studies in this field proved that people who were hospitalized recovered quicker with a view on group of trees, than with a view on a brick wall. Follow-up studies have proven that exposure to natural environments has three positive effects.
This article contains:
Positive effects of nature
Exposure to natural environments:
- Reduces stress
- Improves mood
- Improves cognitive performance
There are two mainstream theories for explaining these outcomes:
Explanation 1: Psychoevolutionary theory
The first theory is the psychoevolutionary theory (PET), which states that this reaction is evolutionary programmed.
This theory tells us that through evolution, humans have positive build-in reactions to natural environments (just like the evolutionary perspective in the introduction above). PET mostly explains that being in nature can reduce stress and improve your mood, but doesn’t fully explain how nature improves cognitive performance.
Explanation 2: Attention Restoration Theory
The second theory is the attention restoration theory (ART).
This theory states that a natural environment offers the setting where you can restore your ‘directed attention’. Directed attention is the conscious attention you need for cognitive tasks, and this cognitive focus can become fatigued after prolonged mental activity. Nature offers the setting in a way that you are distracted gently (e.g. no cars you have to watch out for) and ‘undirected attention’ (i.e. unconscious) can take over. So nature reloads your battery! ART is especially strong in explaining how nature improves cognitive performance but doesn’t fully explain how nature reduces stress and improves mood.
A bacterium that makes you happy?
Interesting is that both being in nature and viewing pictures of natural environments enhance well-being. Being in nature yourself however, seems to have a stronger effect (this should make sense, especially when following the principle of the ART). According to recent research, natural environment promotes cognitive performance and offers higher resistance to stress, because of exposure to a bacterium called mycobacterium vaccae.
In the brain of mice –and thus likely in humans- this bacterium leads to a higher release of the neurotransmitter serotonin (low concentration of serotonin is related to depressive disorder). So yes, take another look at the picture above, and enhance your well-being right away. Also make sure that you set a picture of a natural environment as your desktop wallpaper. If you haven’t done so already, do it right away: Google Search HD Nature Wallpapers.
There’s a natural drug with significant effects on your well-being as well. For more information on that, check out our article on the positive effects of hallucinogens.
Apply it in your daily life
All in all, being exposed to a natural environment makes you function better. I strongly advise you to try to walk in a natural environment on a regular basis. It’s efficient to combine this with jogging (as exercise is extremely advisable as well) or –if you have one- walking your dog.
If you’re living in the city, look for a nearby natural environment. By setting regular times to expose yourself to nature, you can make this into a routine. Use this routine for relaxing your mind and seeing things from a different perspective by being somewhere else (since studies have shown that decision-making and doing cognitive tasks works better when doing something else in between: just like proposed by the ART). Also, when choosing an office space, choose one with view on a natural scene. In case this is not possible, at least hang up a poster of a nature scene.
Appreciate nature and you will improve your well-being!
It’s your turn now!
Please tell us how you apply this principle in your daily life, by leaving a comment below.