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Stressed? Give the TV a miss and look out the window

Reuters June 12, 2008

Belinda Goldsmith

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - If you're feeling stressed, rather than wallow in front of the television try looking out of the window, with a U.S. study finding scenes of nature can alleviate minor stress levels.

Researchers at the Human Interaction with Nature and Technological Systems Lab at the University of Washington set out to look at whether nature, either the real thing or depicted technologically, can impact on minor stress levels.

The study involved measuring people's heart recovery rate from minor stress when they were exposed to a natural scene through a window and when exposed to the same scene shown on a high-definition plasma screen, or a blank wall.

"The heart rate of people who looked at the scene through the window dropped more quickly than the others. In fact, the high-definition plasma screen had no more effect than the blank wall," the researchers said in a statement.

They also found that when people spent more time looking at the natural scene their heart rates tended to decrease more. That was not the case with the plasma screen.

The study, involving 90 college students, is published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

"Technology is good and it can help our lives, but let's not be fooled into thinking we can live without nature," Peter Kahn, who led the research team, said in a statement.

He said people were losing direct experiences with nature and instead experiencing nature represented technologically through television and other media with children growing up watching Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.

"But as a species we need interaction with actual nature for our physical and psychological well-being," he said.