Nature Makes You Nice

Are you feeling nice today?

Will you see the co-worker who came in contagious and gave you the flu? Perhaps you’ll wake up to the same dirty dishes in the sink that you asked your spouse to clean the night before? Or maybe you just woke up in a foul mood.

A little nature can go a long way in helping us re-center and place value in our relationships.

In fact, research shows that exposure to nature can make us nicer to others by fostering our values that relate to building relationships and community. The interesting thing about this study is that they didn’t use real, tangible nature. They used nature imagery and asked people to visualize themselves in the space. If a picture of nature can make us nicer to each other, imagine what real nature could do!

So, before venturing out into the world today, try to take in a little nature and brighten your mood. Your family and coworkers will thank you for it! And join the conversation by liking my facebook page. Tell us how nature has impacted your mood or values!

 

Everyday takeaways from science:

  1. If you know you’re going to have a difficult meeting at work today, try taking a walk outside for 10 minutes before the meeting begins. 
  2. Try putting your toddler’s timeout chair next to a window with a view of the garden. If nature plays a role in making adults nice, then it might do wonders with your littles.
  3. Exercise outside or while viewing nature videos. It could give your stress-relieving routine a little boost!

 

Your Ray of Sunshine

Our everyday actions matter! Take a walk outside, gaze out a window, or watch a short nature video during your work break. Small, simple actions can lead to a change in our values which might just help us to be a little nicer to each other. Nature can recharge our feelings of community!

 

The Research

The researchers of this study measured life aspirations – essentially, what people value. They focused on intrinsic (relationships and community) and extrinsic (wealth and fame) life aspirations. The basic difference between these two variables is that one is others-focused and the other is self-focused.They hypothesized that exposure to nature increased the value that people put on intrinsic aspirations and decreased their value of extrinsic aspirations.

They suggest that the mechanism in which this occurs is through the development of autonomy and nature relatedness. Research shows that feelings of autonomy are strongly linked to well-being and happiness. Nature has been shown to increase peoples’ autonomy by empowering them to pursue their own interests without being crippled by fear and societal expectations. Nature relatedness is also linked to intrinsic life aspirations because it increases peoples’ feelings of connectedness.

The researchers conducted 4 separate but related studies.

First Study

A sample of 98 participants was shown either nature or urban images for 2 minutes and was asked to visualize themselves in the environment. Participants then took a questionnaire to measure how immersed they felt in the environment, their intrinsic/extrinsic aspirations, and their mood. Results showed that participants exposed to nature images valued intrinsic aspirations (others-focused) and devalued extrinsic aspirations. Participants exposed to urban images placed more value on extrinsic aspirations.

Second study

This study aimed to replicate study #1 and account for the mediating roles of autonomy and feelings of relatedness to nature. A sample of 112 people went through the same procedure as the first study but filled out additional questionnaires related to the 2 mediating variables. The results were similar to study #1, but in addition to valuing intrinsic aspirations (others-focused), those exposed to nature images also felt more autonomous and related to nature when compared to their urban-viewing counterparts.

Third study

The third study looked at changes in behavior, not just feelings. A sample of 85 people went through the same procedure as the first 2 studies but was given a choice of keeping $5 or giving it to another participant. The results were similar to studies 1 and 2. In addition to valuing intrinsic aspirations (others-focused), those viewing nature images were more likely to be generous. Those who viewed urban images were less generous and arguably greedy.

Fourth study

In the fourth study, 75 participants completed the same questionnaires and generosity task, but they did not look at imagery. Instead, they were asked to participate in a 5-minute relaxation period in a room with potted plants or a room without plants. Results were similar. Participants in rooms with plants placed more value on intrinsic aspirations (others-focused), they felt more autonomous and related to nature, and they were more generous.

So, there it is! One study shows how nature can be an impetus for helping us place more value in our relationships and ultimately make us nicer people.

 

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Jenny

Reference

Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A. K., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Can nature make us more caring? Effects of immersion in nature on intrinsic aspirations and generosity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 35:1315-1329.

Thank you, Netta, Andrew, and Richard for your scholarly contribution!

 

*Disclaimer*

Please be mindful that this is a single study. The generalizations I make from the study’s results are to be used as guidelines. I am conveying the science behind the benefits of nature in a way that you can use in your everyday life. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to life’s problems. These suggestions should be taken in light of good judgment and your ability to critically think.  Adding a potted plant to your workspace isn’t going to miraculously make you a more pleasant person, but it might be one small step toward that goal. Change is a process that takes discipline, courage, and commitment. Take your first step towards a healthier and more positive life today! Get outside!

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