Taking a peaceful walk in nature may not be a wise choice for everyone, according to a new study that found people who are prone to anxiety instead benefit from busy, urban environments.
“Previous literature says that natural environments tend to restore cognitive abilities better than urban environments, but we questioned whether this one-sided perspective was accurate,” said lead author Kevin Newman, an assistant professor at Providence College in US.
The researchers started by asking participants to perform tasks that drained them mentally, such as writing sentences without using the letters “A” or “N.”
Then participants answered questions that showed their level of neuroticism, such as whether they were a worrier, irritable, highly strung or experienced moods that often go up and down.
Then all the subjects performed tasks that exposed them to words or pictures associated with either a natural or urban environment.
Surprisingly, the results showed that people with neurotic personalities had more success restoring their cognitive abilities after they viewed words related to a busy urban environment.
The nature-related words, however, were more beneficial for people who were not generally neurotic.
The researchers also discovered that neurotic people may not necessarily have to go to a busy urban setting to restore themselves mentally.
In fact, nature could provide frenetic, stressful cues when the participants were exposed to words like “bear,” “cliff” and “thunder.”
Similarly, people low in neuroticism may not need to seek out nature to revive themselves mentally. Cues from a calm place in a busy city – such as a bookstore or library – restored participants in this category.
The researchers also discovered that restoring the mind was tied to one’s ability to exert self-control. This correlation between environment and self-control could have implications related to health outcomes, Newman said.
People may make healthier food choices if they choose environments that match their personality type, he said.
In the study, neurotic participants had more financial discipline when they viewed safari vacation pictures and descriptions that matched their personality type.
They were more likely to stick to a limited vacation budget when they saw safari photos with lions gnashing teeth and rhinos charging, but this was not the case when they viewed photos with leopards sleeping and rhinos grazing peacefully.
The study was published in the Journal of Consumer by Psychology.