Nature has many positive benefits, but one of the most recent benefits to come into the spotlight is its ability to suppress impulsive tendencies—even when viewed virtually.
This is according to a new study out of Utah State University and published in PLOS One, which tested impulsivity in study participants through the use of the common delay discounting method. The nearly 200 participants were first shown a series of images in one of three categories: the natural world, the built environment, or geometric shapes (control group). After viewing several images, they were asked to choose whether they would like to have a smaller monetary reward immediately, or a larger reward later. This process was repeated several times, with the amounts of money and time varying.
“Exposure to scenes of natural environments resulted in significantly less impulsive decision-making,” the study reads, “while viewing scenes of built environments and geometric shapes resulted in similar, higher levels of impulsive decision-making. […] Effects of natural versus built environments on mood, attention, and time perception—or a combination of these influences—could be driving these effects.”
Study researcher Kerry Jordan says, “We know that virtual views of nature can help us be healthier and restore attention, but other studies have shown immersion works even better.” The Utah State University study was not immersive, her comments implying that there would likely be an even larger difference if participants had been immersed in a natural environment versus a built environment.
Past studies have indicated that nature also has positive effects on mood, attention, and happiness as well, which has been a large part of rationale for many greening initiatives in urban settings.