Newspaper article

Need a Boost of Optimism and Self-Control? Try a Nature Walk

Newspaper article

Need a Boost of Optimism and Self-Control? Try a Nature Walk

Article excerpt

Want to feel a bit more optimistic about the future?

Try taking a nature walk this weekend. According to a new study, spending time in a natural as opposed to a "man-made" environment can boost our optimism by up to a sixth.

Being in an all-natural landscape has a similar effect on our sense of self-control, the study also found.

"This is an important result because delay of gratification is an essential ingredient for promoting individual and social change pertaining to, for instance, healthy lifestyles, antisocial behaviour, resource conservation and population growth," write the team of neuroscientists and psychologists from VU University Amsterdam who conducted the study.

The research was published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences).

Three experiments

For the study, the Dutch researchers conducted three separate types of experiments. The first took place in a laboratory. Volunteer participants were randomly assigned to view photos of either a natural or an urban setting. They were then given a choice between two monetary options: to receive 100 euros immediately, for example, or 150 euros in 10-euro increments over 90 days.

Psychologists use this monetary decision task in studies to measure how much individuals value -- or discount -- the future.

"Humans have an evolved bias to prefer immediate rewards over long-term rewards," the authors of the current study explain in their paper. "This universal and surprisingly strong tendency to discount the future is a contributing factor to various individual and societal challenges, such as obesity, substance abuse, pollution, resource exploitation and over-population. An important scientific question is whether people's discount rates vary, and if so why."

The researchers found in that first experiment that people's discount rates did vary. Those participants who viewed the natural landscapes were up to 16 percent more likely to opt to wait for the larger monetary reward than those who viewed the urban landscapes.

To test whether similar results would occur outside the lab, the researchers randomly assigned another group of volunteers to a five- minute walk in either a natural setting or through the streets of Amsterdam. …

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