outdoor time and personality

Outdoor Time Makes You a Better Person

Can nature make us more caring? A quartet of studies recently found that even brief exposure to nature seems to make people more caring and community oriented.

By Megan Othersen Gorman

Outdoor Time Makes You a Better Person

Get out: Study finds that people exposed to nature pursue more worthy goals.

A little outdoor time may have positive effects on your personality, even if you're not aware of it. Research published just this month in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that even the most minimal exposure to nature—even something as simple keeping houseplants around—makes us demonstrably more caring people.

THE DETAILS: In three of the four studies, participants were exposed to images of either natural or non-natural environments while listening to a guided imagery script that instructed them to tune into their environments, notice colors and textures, and imagine sounds and smells. Before and afterwards, they were asked to describe their life goals—both what the researchers refer to as "intrinsic aspirations" (personal growth, intimacy, community) or "extrinsic aspirations" (money, image, fame)—before and after the presentations. In the fourth study, participants were asked to come to a lab that was either free of plants or was furnished with four plants. All four studies were performed at New York’s University of Rochester.

Results from all the studies showed that the participants exposed to nature—either via slide-show images or the presence of live plants in the lab setting—valued intrinsic goals more, and extrinsic goals less, than they had before spending time in the presence of nature. Why? The study authors speculate it’s because nature can remove individuals from their daily pressures, and help them tune into themselves in the moment.

WHAT IT MEANS: Nature nurtures the best in us. Despite their relatively brief contact with what even the authors admit were fairly weak simulations of natural environments, the study participants were moved to care more for others than they had before the exposure. “Our findings suggest that full contact with nature can have humanizing effects,” write the authors, who go on to say that actually living in more natural surroundings may inspire people to be more caring than they would otherwise be.

Here’s how to maximize your exposure to nature—without pulling a “Green Acres” and moving to Hooterville:

• Exercise outside. Not only will you boost your caring quotient by spending time in a park, on a running trail, or cycling some back roads, you’ll get greater health benefits. According to a 2003 Swedish study, people who run in parks feel 15 percent more restored than those who run on treadmills or through city streets. Reserve time for a walk or bicycle ride outdoors as often as you can.

• Use the backyard. Not an endurance athlete? Get outside anyway. Toss a ball or Frisbee around with the kids. Invite some friends over for a backyard yoga session or a game of two-hand touch football.

• Cancel the lawn service. Depending on where you live, there may not be much mowing left to do, but there are plenty of fall yard tasks to keep up with. And for extra exercise—and to test our your newly boosted caring attitude—you can offer to help elderly or busy neighbors clean up their lawns.

• Eat out. Not at a restaurant—outside. For most areas of the country, isn’t too late in the year to fire up the grill (or order a pizza) and enjoy the sunset over the neighbors’ trampoline.


Published on: October 12, 2009

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Life can be difficult. People are always looking for an influence, someone to look up to, someone to emulate. You can set the example, be the motivation that can really impact another human being. Guy Riordan

Nature makes the World go Round and YOU get up!

I will spent only a second on and suggest Dale goes for help! What a negative attitude!

Then I will come back to the REAL people, those who want to live and be perky and happy... your best Teacher and Supporter is NATURE! When I see the morning colors peeking on the horizon, I want to go out and greet the day, whether running or just walking about on the property. Sunset does the same to me. GET OUT THERE AND ENJOY!!!!! :)

Being outside

It is amazing how many of us never take the time to look at the sky or a tree or a bug! We have all this miracle that is earth happening all around us all the time. It is both awesome and winsome, that is reality. Then we chose to concentrate on what we have fashioned into reality by not being open to the world around us!


I found myself nodding "yes" to everything in the article ! I live in Iowa where winters are long and sun sometimes scarce, and I have seasonal affective disorder too. Even in winter I make time to crunch through the snow a few blocks and it clears my mind ( I work with special needs children in schools) and brightens up the eyes, I swear ! Thanks for article !

Great Article!!

I love to run and I do so both at the gym on the treadmill and outside. As a matter of fact, I've been running a whole lot more outside because I feel so great afterwards. On the treadmill I get bored and want to be done. I actually find myself looking for reasons or aches and pains as an excuse to stop. However when I run outside, I can go twice as far. I love the fresh air and the scenery. It's nice to pass a fellow runner and exchange "Good Mornings". I have spent far more time outdoors this summer whether it was playing wiffle ball in the yard or hiking at a nearby state park. It's been so fun to be outside and enjoy all nature has to offer. I think they're onto something.....

Being outside

I believe the results from the study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin because of an anecdotal incident involving my own mother. She suffered depression in her forties, and the advice of her then family practitioner (who, in my mother's eyes, walked on water), was, "Get out, Harriet, and walk around outside and look up at the sky. Every time you feel bad, just go outside..." And , sure enough, it helped. No medications needed---just the sky...

Who were these people?

I don't doubt that nature can play a big role in shaping someones world view, but this study as it's explained in this article has omitted some details which make me wonder how well it represents the population as a whole. What were the age of the participants for example? If the study was done on campus of these various universities I'd have to wonder because younger people who usually represent the student body can be very impressionable, especially if they are subjected to various stimuli and asked to answer certain questions after the fact. There might be some pressure, either implied or implicit to answer questions a certain way.

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