Researchers have developed a smartphone-based app, Urban Mind, to examine how exposure to nature in cities affects a person’s mental wellbeing.

The Urban Mind app monitored 108 individuals who collectively completed 3 013 assessments over a one-week period.

In each assessment, participants answered several questions about their current environment and momentary mental wellbeing. GPS-based geotagging was used to monitor their exact location throughout the one-week trial.

Related: Birds and trees are good for mental health

The results

The researchers found the following:

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  • Being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birdsong, seeing the sky, and feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing
  • The beneficial effects of nature were especially evident in those individuals with greater levels of impulsivity who are at greater risk of mental health issues.

The results showed significant immediate and time-lagged positive mental wellbeing associations for several natural features, including trees, the sky and birdsong.

These positive effects were still evident several hours after exposure to nature.

Related: Gardens boost children’s developing brains

Each participant was rated on “trait impulsivity” – a psychological measure of one’s tendency to behave with little consideration of the consequences and a predictor of higher risk of developing addictive disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, antisocial personality disorder and bipolar disorder.

This revealed that the beneficial impact of nature on mental wellbeing was greater in people with higher levels of trait impulsivity and a higher risk of developing mental health issues.

“Using the Urban Mind app made me more aware of my surroundings and how these affect my state of mind,” says Lucia Robertson, a participant on the project, “It encouraged me to think hard about what kind of city I want to live in.”

Source: King’s College London www.sciencedaily.com

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