A Little Nature Goes a Long Way

nature goes a long way and makes you nicer

Does being in a natural environment or around nature make you a nicer person? That's the premise behind new research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

After conducting three studies, a team from the University of Rochester found that study participants who were either shown picture of natural scenes or who participated in a laboratory setting decorated with living plants consistently demonstrated greater preference for community-based values than self-interested values. Study participants who were shown city scenes or participated in a laboratory devoid of greenery answered researchers questions in a way that pointed more towards self-interest. Nature, it appears, encourages people to be more caring of one another.

Researchers are quick to note that more studies are needed before drawing definitive conclusions. They like to point out, however, that this backs up ideas such as incorporating green spaces, parks and other natural settings into urban environments.

The Importance of Nature  

Why would images of natural spaces make study participants lean more towards community values rather than ego-centric values? Why would study participants engaging in a money-based task be more prone to sharing rather than hording when they sit in a room filled with plants rather than a room filled with computers?

Researchers participating in the University of Rochester study speculate that away from manmade environments, the pressure is off for social performance expectations.  In other words, we can be nicer to one another because the pressure is off to compete with the Joneses, Smith, Lings and Jacksons.

Get Into the Green

People seem to intuitively seek natural environments. Whether it's renting a beach side cottage for vacation or escaping for a walk during a hectic work day, nature is a natural stress reliever when "the world is too much with us."

Here's how you can quickly and easily get into the green – that is, incorporate nature and natural elements into your life.

At Work

•    Let the sunshine in: If you have windows in your office, roll up the blinds to allow natural sunlight into the space. A glimpse of the sky and clouds among the skyscrapers can add a tiny bit of nature into a cheerless space.

•    Add plants: In the University of Rochester study, potted plants added to the laboratory were enough to affect the outcomes. More people chose community-center values over selfish values. Try adding potted plants to an office interior.  Some plants that thrive under artificial lights or in poor light conditions include Golden Pothos, Dracena, Peace Lily and many others are easy to grow.

•    Choose photos and pictures of nature:
Many office decorators seem to think that modern art is de rigueur for a professional space. While modern artist such as Angela Cameron prove that nature and modernism can mix, most modern art paintings do not evoke the spirit of the outdoors. Choose instead simple prints, photographs and posters depicting natural settings. Soothing ocean scenes, mountains, forests, deserts, plants – all can increase a feeling of the outdoors.

•    Escape during lunch: If there's a park nearby, take your lunch to the park.  Take a brisk walk and escape the confines of the office. Even large cities such as New York often have gardens tucked away between skyscrapers, rooftop gardens, courtyard gardens and tiny parks sandwiched into surprising corners.

At Home

•    Spend time outside: Instead of watching television, how about a walk around the block, or even sitting outside on your porch, deck or fire escape and watching the stars come out?  There are plenty of opportunities each and every day to engage with nature!

•    Choose vacations in nature: Cities are fun to visit, but vacations in state parks, at the shore, or in the mountains may prove to be more relaxing.

•    Use natural elements inside:
Like the office building suggestions, include house plants in your décor. They not only simulate nature but help freshen and clean the air.  Open the windows to let the fresh breezes waft natural scents into the air.  Let the outdoors in!

•    Cultivate a garden: Even if you think you have a black thumb instead of a green one, try growing something. A pot of colorful geraniums on the front porch or a little pot of salad greens are easy to grow and give you something natural to nurture.

•    Play with pets: Nature also takes the form of our furry, scaly and feathered friends.  Enjoy time with your special pet and you're engaging in nature.

Can nature make you a better person?  It's probably not going to turn Scrooge into Mother Theresa, but it can lift your mood and encourage you to be more caring and giving.

These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration.  The preceding information and/or products are for educational purposes only and are not meant to diagnose, prescribe, or treat illness. Please consult your doctor before making any changes or before starting ANY exercise or nutritional supplement program or before using this information or any product during pregnancy or if you have a serious medical condition.

Written by:  Jeanne Grunert
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