New research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology provides evidence that brief contact with the natural environment quickly improves mood.
“Throughout my life I have enjoyed time spent in natural settings so I have been delighted to discover the burgeoning research examining the health benefits of nature contact,” said study author Katherine D. Arbuthnott of Campion College.
“The findings of emotional health benefits are particularly interesting as they seem to be observed very easily and quickly. My students and I decided to push the boundaries of this rapid effect to see how quickly we could observe changes, and whether these effects are appreciably changed with longer exposures.”
An initial study of 123 university students found that participants who sat in an urban park for just five minutes showed significant increases in positive emotions compared to participants who sat in a windowless laboratory room.
But increasing the duration of nature contact did not significantly increase the mood benefit. A second study of 70 students found that spending 15 minutes in nature — rather than just five — did not magnify the effect.
“There are two important take-homes. The first I emphasize to all my students these days — when you need an emotional boost, the fastest and easiest way is to spend a few minutes with nature. Actually being outside is the best, but even contemplating a picture of a natural scene will make a difference,” Arbuthnott told PsyPost.
“The second is that, since contact with nature is so beneficial to our emotional health, preserving our local natural spaces is an important public health goal.”
The study does have some limitations.
“There are many details of these health effects yet to discover. Our study examined only short exposures to nature (5 & 15 minutes) in a small urban park. It would also be useful to know whether much longer exposures, or time spent in larger natural areas would influence our emotions differently,” Arbuthnott explained.
“We also know almost nothing about how long these emotional boosts last. We do know, however, that these benefits are observed in all seasons, as several of our studies have been conducted in winter.”
The study, “Nature contact and mood benefits: contact duration and mood type“, was authored by Calum Neill, Janelle Gerard, and Katherine D. Arbuthnott.