Nature vs. Alienation

It seems obvious that surrounding oneself with growing leafy things and seeing natural imagery is calming to the mind.  But does exposure to nature affect people’s intrinsic aspirations and generosity?  Recent work from a team of psychologists at the University of Rochester suggests “Nature Makes us more Caring.”

October 1, 2009 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 35, No. 10, 1315-1329 (2009)

It turns out, natural scenes don’t just help us feel better emotionally.  It’s suggested that compassion and community oriented instincts are heightened as well.   The authors hope environmental planners and interior designers will consider these revelations when approaching new designs for public and private spaces.

Results from the 370 participant, four experiment study suggest that nature makes us more charitable and sensitive to the needs of others.  Why would generosity be amplified? One explanation is that multidimensional and complex aspects of the natural world encourage introspection.  Other studies meanwhile are suggesting that urban dwellers exhibit more estrangement, reservation and indifference than do rural dwellers.

Lead author Netta Weinstein: “We are influenced by our environment in ways that we are not aware of. Because of the hidden benefits of connecting with nature, people should take advantage of opportunities to get away from built environments and, when inside, they should surround themselves with plants, natural objects, and images of the natural world. The more you appreciate nature, the more you can benefit. To the extent that our links with nature are disrupted, we may also lose some connection with each other.”

So psychological responses to the world can swing from alienation to community involvement, due in part to the abundance or absence of living greenery and natural imagery in our lives.  Research subjects surrounded by man-made images were found to place more emphasis and value on wealth and fame than their counterparts who were exposed to the natural images.  According to coauthor Andrew Przybylski, “Nature in a way strips away the artifices of society that alienate us from one another.”

These findings offer further evidence of the importance of nature in the maintenance of mental health, and consequently for the health and efficiency of organizations.

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