Study: Urban Green Spaces Lower People’s Frustration and Stress

central park

What is the relationship between the environment, behaviour and emotions? What kinds of environments will make us happy? Environmental psychologists try to answer this question.

They do so because happiness is the building stone of our society and life in general. The reason for this is that happiness increases important aspects of our behaviour that ultimately will lead to a better society and life.

In a cognitive-behavioural sense, we engage in more intellectual and physical activities such as experimental play, and we furthermore improve the social and psychological resources of ours so we become more likely to think in innovative ways.

According to the restorative literature of stress, green spaces help us recover from everyday stress and replenish energy. We seek green places because of the obvious positive influence they have on us, and their recreational value accordingly.

A new study by Aspinall and colleagues (2013) investigated the emotional states and experiences of participants, who were actively engaged within three different environments, including a green space setting. They did so by a new technique called electroencephalography (EGG). Participants did a 25 min walk through the different environmental settings.

The settings or areas were about the same length and were respectively an urban shopping stress, a path through green space, and street through a commercial district. The EGG gave information about five emotional states: short-term excitement; frustration; engagement; long-term excitement/arousal; meditation.

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In their analysis, they found that the green space led to lower frustration, alertness and arousal, and higher meditation and reflection. The authors conclude that the differences were systematic in the three urban settings, which supports the restoration theory.

So, improving and promoting urban green spaces seems essential for improving mood and other forms of physical or reflective activities. This conclusion is supported by another study involving 10,000 participants (White et al., 2013). The positive effects of green space on mental well-being were found to be small at the individual level, but they are promising at a community level.

The study did not examine the mechanisms that explain how green spaces improve mental well-being. However, the authors suggest a number of plausible mechanisms that improve well-being such as a stress reduction, cognitive restoration, physical activity, positive social interactions.

Photo: Mathew Knott
  • Would be interesting to know WHY we feel happy in nature 🙂

    • Hi there! In an evolutionary perspective, we have probably evolved preferences for beautiful (i.e. vigorous) natural environments because they have provided us with nourishment and increased our chances of survival. So these positive emotions that we experience might originate from innate cognitive preferences. If I remember correctly, then this theory is explained in some detail in the following article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494414000024