Reduce Rumination, Stress by Taking a Walk in Nature, Viewing Animals

More than 50% of people live in urban environments and most have relatively infrequent contact with nature, according to research published by the United Nations.

Theo Lorenc

Theo Lorenc

One consequence is that many urban dwellers with decreased exposure to nature report “changes in psychological functioning” including ruminative thoughts – repetitive thoughts about negative aspects of the self – and depressed feelings, found University College London’s Theo Lorenc, Mark Petticrew, and Steven Cummins with Stephen Clayton of University of Central Lancaster, and David Neary of University of Manchester, University of Liverpool’s Margaret Whitehead, Hilary Thomson of University of Glasgow,  University of York’s Amanda Jayne Sowden, and Adrian Renton of University of East London.

Stephen Clayton

Stephen Clayton

Contact with nature can affect cognitive performance as well as emotional experience: Children living in urban environments with consistent views of nature outside their windows, performed better on:

  • Working memory (backward digit span, backward alphabet span),
  • Impulse inhibition (matching familiar figures task),
  • Selective attention (Stroop color-word task),
  • Concentration (Necker Cube pattern control task), reported by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Andrea Faber Taylor, Frances Kuo, and William C. Sullivan.
Andrea Faber Taylor

Andrea Faber Taylor

Urban environments are thought to require substantial top-down voluntary attentional control to filter relevant from irrelevant stimuli.
At the same time, built landscapes can deplete cognitive resources, worsening performance on tasks requiring focused attention, noted University of Uppsala’s Terry HartigGary W. Evans of University of California, Irvine with Marlis Mang of Planning & Design Solutions.

Terry Hartig

Terry Hartig

Walking for 90 minutes in nature reduced ruminationblood flow, and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC), reported Stanford’s Gregory N. Bratman, Kevin S. Hahn, Gretchen C. Daily, and James J. Gross with J. Paul Hamilton of Laureate Institute for Brain Research.
This brain area has been linked to self-focused behavioral withdrawal and rumination among both healthy and depressed people.

Gregory Bratman

Gregory Bratman

More than 35 volunteers rated their proneness to ruminate with negative thoughts, then half walked alone for 90-minutes without music through undeveloped open space hills through grassland with scattered shrubs and oak trees along a paved path.
They were told to take ten photographs of “whatever captured their attention” to disguise the study’s hypotheses.

Urban vs Rural Walks

Kevin Hahn

Kevin Hahn

Remaining participants walked alone without music down a busy, paved six-lane road with traffic for the same time period.

Following the walks, volunteers again rated their likelihood to repeatedly think negative thoughts.
They also completed a brain scan and cognitive and emotional assessment instruments including:

Lee Anna Clark

Lee Anna Clark

Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS) developed by Southern Methodist University’s David Watson, with Lee Anna Clark and Auke Tellegen of University of Minnesota,

Backward digit span, developed by David Wechsler of Bellevue Hospital,

Jin Fan

Jin Fan

Attention Network Task (ANT- executive attention subtest), developed by Mount Sinai’s Jin Fan, Bruce D. McCandliss and John Fossella of Cornell, Yale’s Jonathan I. Flombaum and Michael I. Posner of University of Oregon,

Rumination-Reflection Questionnaire (RRQ) by Ohio State’s Paul Trapnell and Jennifer Campbell, including items like “I often reflect on episodes of my life that I should no longer concern myself with”),

Nash Unsworth

Nash Unsworth

Operation Span Task (OSPAN) developed by Georgia Tech’s Nash Unsworth, Richard Heitz and and Randall Engle with Josef Schrock o Marysville College,

State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), developed by University of South Florida’s Charles D. Spielberger, 

Visuospatial working memory (change detection), developed by University of Iowa’s Steven J. Luck and Edward K. Vogel,


2 thoughts on “Reduce Rumination, Stress by Taking a Walk in Nature, Viewing Animals

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Vera Eck wrote:

    Thank you for the reminder, Kathryn Welds! Time to head for the hills…

    Sean Murphy wrote:

    You talking to me?

    Kathryn replied:

    You’re right, Vera and Sean.
    It’s time for urban dwellers and technology users to head to the hills and trees and lakes and sea and meadows and more.

  2. kathrynwelds Post author

    Victor Santos wrote: Yes!

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks for your comment, Victor, and the reminder that connection with nature and other species is a helpful stress management tool.


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