Can Nature Make People More Caring? New Studies Say It’s Possible

The benefits of nature have been widely documented—active time in the outdoors improves classroom performance, gets kids off the couch, and can help prevent children from being “coronary time bombs”.

New research shows that nature can also make people more caring. According to an article in the journal Scientific American, researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that experiences with nature can positively affect intrinsic aspirations and generosity. Exposure to nature, according to the series of studies, can affect our priorities in life—making us more compassionate and focused on the well-being of others.

How did researchers test the hypothesis that time outdoors can alter what we think is important in life?

The researchers ran a series of studies, during one of which randomly assigned individuals immersed themselves in a slide show that depicted either scenes of human-made or natural environments. After watching the images, participants completed a series of questions scoring their aspirations and priorities in life.

The results showed that people who watched the nature images placed lower priority scores on extrinsic life aspirations—like financial success or popularity—and higher priority scores on intrinsic life aspirations, characterized by deep and enduring relationships, for example.

Spending time with plants, animals, and friends outside can improve our physical and mental health, self-esteem, and classroom performance. This new research suggests that protecting our natural environments can also protect human nature—and how caring we are with others.

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