When people reported feeling in contact with nature, the effects lingered even longer. In this case, the authors found a statistical effect on mental well-being 4 hours and 50 minutes later.
The research team also found that the positive effects of encounters with nature in the urban environment are greater for people with a predisposition for mental illness.
They report that the effects of being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birds singing and feeling in contact with nature were greater for those with higher levels of trait impulsivity.
The research team, which included scientists from King's College London as well as landscape architects and an art foundation, noted that there were some limitations to this particular study.
For example, it is possible that people who made the decision to go outside and look at nature were already in a better state of mind than those who were feeling down and lazy, and were therefore more likely to stay at home or at work.
In addition, people with lower mental well-being may have been more likely to pay attention to the unpleasant sounds of traffic rather than hearing the singing of birds.
Also, the participants skewed younger and better educated than the overall population.
"Future studies would benefit from recruiting a more diverse sample and investigating how the results change as a function of demographic and socioeconomic factors," the authors wrote.
Still, the work represents the first time that a study has looked at how including natural features within a built environment can affect mental well-being, the authors wrote. Work like this could help city planners better understand what natural features have the greatest effects on the well-being of city dwellers, they said.
Currently, more than half the world's population lives in urban areas, and previous studies have shown that people who live in cities are at a higher risk for mental health issues, the authors said.
That means that studies that can help cities improve the mental well-being of their residents have never been more important.
According to the Urban Mind website, the research team is planning to launch a more ambitious, worldwide study this year.
In the meantime, if you happen to live in a city environment, do yourself a favor and look at the sky, listen to the birds and check out the trees. It might make you feel better.
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