Friday, February 17, 2017

The Healing Power of Viewing Natural Scenes

The healing effects of a natural view are increasingly being understood in stressful environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, remote military sites, space ships and space stations (Lewis, 1996). In these environments particularly, as well as for people who work in windowless offices, studies show that seeing nature is important to people and is an effective means of relieving stress and improving well-being (Kaplan, 1992a; Lewis, 1996; Leather et al., 1998).


A study examining recovery rates of patients who underwent gall bladder surgery found that those with a natural view recovered faster, spent less time in hospital, had better evaluation from nurses, required fewer painkillers and had less postoperative complications compared with those that viewed an urban scene (Ulrich, 1984). Similarly, Ulrich and colleagues studied the effects of different natural and urban scenes on subjects who had just watched a stressful film (horror genre) (Ulrich et al., 1991b). Measuring a whole array of physiological measures [including heart rate, skin conductance, muscle tension and pulse transit time (a non-invasive measure that correlates with systolic blood pressure)] they found that recovery was faster and more complete when subjects were exposed to natural rather than urban scenes (Ulrich et al., 1991b). The physiological data measured by this study suggests that natural settings elicit a response that includes a component of the parasympathetic nervous system associated with the restoration of physical energy (Ulrich et al., 1991a).

Research conducted in prison environments suggests that cell window views of nature are associated with a lower frequency of stress symptoms in inmates, including digestive illnesses and headaches, and with fewer sick calls overall by prisoners (Moore, 1981). Tennessen and Cimprich gave university students a test and compared scores of students who had natural views to those that had did not (Tennessen and Cimprich, 1995). They found that those with a view of nature scored better on the test than those with non-natural views.

Research suggests access to nature in the workplace is related to lower levels of perceived job stress and higher levels of job satisfaction (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989). Workers with a view of trees and flowers felt that their jobs were less stressful and they were more satisfied with their jobs than others who could only see built environments from their window. In addition, employees with views of nature reported fewer illnesses and headaches (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989). A similar study found that a view of natural elements (trees and other vegetation) buffered the negative impact of job stress on intention to quit (Leather et al., 1998).

Parsons et al., reviewed the literature on commuter stress in car drivers and the mitigating effects of roadside environments (Parsons et al., 1998). Driving is known to be a stressful activity, and causes several physiological changes in the body, including: activation of the sympathetic nervous system, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate and an increase in heart rate variability (Parsons et al., 1998). Stress recovery and immunization were measured in subjects exposed to one of four simulated drives (drives with forest/rural scenery, drives along the outside of golf courses, drives through urban scenes and drives through mixed roadside scenery), immediately following and preceding mildly stressful events. Findings demonstrated that participants who viewed nature-dominated drives experienced quicker recovery from stress and greater immunization to subsequent stress than participants who viewed artifact-dominated drives (Parsons et al., 1998).

Ulrich examined the effects of viewing nature on psychological state, particularly on mood affect, and found that participants who viewed slides of unspectacular scenes of nature had an increase in positive mood affect, while those who viewed scenes of urban areas experienced a decline in positive mood affect (Ulrich, 1979; Ulrich, 1982; cited in Rohde and Kendle, 1994). In this and a later study, Ulrich concluded that scenes of nature, particularly those depicting water, had a beneficial influence on the psychological state of participants (Ulrich, 1982; cited in Rohde and Kendle, 1994).

In a review of the literature, Rohde and Kendle found that the psychological response to nature involves feelings of pleasure, sustained attention or interest, ‘relaxed wakefulness’, and diminution of negative emotions, such as anger and anxiety (Rohde and Kendle, 1994). Evidence presented here has demonstrated that just by viewing nature many aspects of human health and development can be markedly improved. Evidence also exists for the therapeutic benefits to be gained from being in nature.