The social science of “Walden”
Jonah Lehrer has another fantastic post on “Nature and compassion“:
Even a glimpse of greenery can make us behave in kinder, gentler ways.
[A recent] study consisted of several experiments with 370 different subjects. In each experiment, people were exposed to either natural settings (pristine lakes, wooded forests, remote deserts) or man-made environments (cityscapes, skyscrapers and highways). They were then tested for a variety of “prosocial” behaviors, such as compassion and generosity. For instance, two of the experiments used a simple trust task, in which a person is given a $5 prize and told that they could share their prize with an anonymous stranger, who would then be given an additional $5. (There was no guarantee that the second person would return any of the winnings.)
The scientists found that subjects exposed to nature were significantly more likely to open their wallets. Furthermore, increased exposure to nature led to an increased willingness to share with strangers.
Jonah’s explanations and interpretations of this study are here.