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Be a better person -- take a hike

October 2, 2009 |  6:00 am

Nature
Communing with nature not only lifts spirits, it helps people behave better, according to a study published Thursday.

Psychologists at the University of Rochester conducted four experiments with 370 people who were shown computer images of either natural settings, such as landscapes and lakes, or man-made settings, such as buildings and roads. The subjects were encouraged to look at the surroundings carefully, noting things like colors and textures and imagining things like sounds and smells. They then completed questionnaires about the importance of various values, such as wealth, fame, connectedness to community, relationships and the betterment of society.

In all four studies, people exposed to images of nature rated close relationships and community values higher than they had after observing man-made environments. The more deeply engaged people were in the natural settings, the more they valued community and closeness to others. The more intensely they focused on man-made settings, the more they valued fame and wealth.

Nature may influence people by helping them connect to their authentic selves, the authors suggest. After all, humans evolved in hunter-and-gatherer societies that depended on nature. Moreover, being in nature may help people relax, become more introspective, withdraw from the pressures of society and strip themselves of the artifices of society.

The study, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, might help persuade urban planners to incorporate more parks, green space and nature into city life.

"We are influenced by our environment in ways that we are not aware of," the lead author of the study, Netta Weinstein, said in a news release. "The more you appreciate nature, the more you can benefit."

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Will Hart / Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority

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