Nature makes people more caring


Health and Wellbeing

Caring family in field

Credit: Clipart

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Taking the time to experience nature can not only make you feel better, but can make you behave better, too, new research suggests.

While it has been well documented that natural environments can have a range of positive benefits, from increasing happiness and physical health to lowering stress (see G's news story here), published this week, the new study by US researchers shows the benefits can also extend to a person's values and actions.

"Stopping to experience our natural surroundings can have social as well as personal benefits," said study co-author Richard Ryan, professor of psychology, psychiatry and education at New York's University of Rochester.

Exposure to natural as opposed to man-made environments leads people to value community and close relationships and to be more generous with money, his team has found.

Three hundred and seventy participants in the study took part in four experiments, observing and working in differing environments, before answering a questionnaire assessing the importance of four life aspirations concerning wealth and fame ("to be financially successful" and "to be admired by many people") and connectedness and community ("to have deep enduring relationships" and "to work toward the betterment of society").

Across all four studies, people exposed to natural elements, such as plants in their workroom or images of natural landscapes as opposed to cityscapes, rated close relationships and community higher than they had previously.

The questionnaire also measured how immersed viewers were in their environments, and found that the more deeply engaged they were with natural settings, the more they valued community and closeness. By contrast, the more intensely participants focused on artificial elements, the higher they rated wealth and fame.

The study participants were also tested on generosity. They were given a $5 prize that they could either keep or give to second anonymous participant, who would then be given an additional $5 and could then choose to return the prize money or keep it. Despite the risk of losing the money by trusting other participants, people in contact with nature were more willing to share their prize.

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