One roadblock is that people must believe that exposure to nature is worthwhile and desirable. As it turns out, humans aren’t very good at estimating just how wonderful they will feel after spending time in nature. Research by Elizabeth Nisbet and John Zelenski speaks directly to this notion that people underestimate the positive effects of time spent in nature.
In an experimental study, Nisbet and Zelenski randomly assigned students to either go for a walk indoors or go for a walk outdoors in nature. All students predicted how positive the walk would make them feel, and after the walk they reported their emotional state.
Third, the researchers also discovered that when you go for a walk outdoors, you not only end up feeling those stronger positive emotions, but you also tend to feel more connected to nature. This is potentially important, as past research suggests that feeling connected to nature can spur people on to engage in behaviors that are beneficial to the natural environment (e.g., conserving gas and signing environmental petitions; Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy, 2009; Schultz, 2001).
This research provides some evidence that going for a walk outdoors will make you feel better as compared to going for a walk indoors, even if you don’t predict that the walk outdoors will make you feel better. However, the social sciences are complex, and additional questions always remain. How do we help people more accurately assess the positive emotional effects of going for a walk outdoors? How do we create these walking opportunities for individuals who might not have access to safe walking paths in natural settings? Would using other forms of transportation, such as biking or driving, also lead to more positive emotions if they are conducted in more natural environments, as compared to a bike ride or drive through a bustling city?
What do you think?