Exposure to nature can make people care more about the future

6 November 2013 — A new study published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society has found that exposure to images of nature evokes a more future-oriented mindset in people, leading to more long-term strategies and behaviours.

One of the challenges around climate change is that people have evolved a bias towards short-term strategies and behaviours, which in itself has caused many of the environmental problems faced today, such as obesity, substance abuse, pollution, resource exploitation and overpopulation.

The results of three studies (two laboratory experiments and a field study) reported in Do natural landscapes reduce future discounting in humans? revealed that individual discount rates – the rates at which people discount future payoffs – were systematically lower after people had been exposed to scenes of natural environments as opposed to urban environments.

“All three studies, including a fairly realistic field study, showed that exposure to natural landscapes decreases temporal discounting and makes people care more for the future, with discount rates being 10–16 per cent lower after nature exposure than exposure to urban landscapes,” the study stated.

“This is consistent with research showing that scenes of nature increase people’s environmental awareness.”

The study authors said the positive effect of exposure to nature on human behaviour carried important implications for a range of environmental outcomes associated with resource overexploitation, waste production, climate change and family planning.

“Our main finding suggests that exposing people to natural landscapes extends their time horizons, whereas exposure to urban landscapes narrows people’s time perspectives. With the majority of people in the world now living in towns and cities, it may be important to find ways to unleash people’s innate affiliation to other living organisms,” the paper concluded.