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Exposure to Nature Promotes Cooperation

The power of Mother Earth is so strong that even distressing nature scenes can have a positive effect.
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(Illustration: Mark Matcho)

(Illustration: Mark Matcho)

The philosopher Bertrand Russell famously remarked that “the only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.” New research finds that one way to encourage mutually beneficial behavior is to shift our focus from mankind to Mother Earth.

In the Journal of Environmental Psychology, a team led by Carleton University’s John Zelenski describes three studies in which participants who watched short nature videos (some as brief as two minutes) were subsequently more likely to act in cooperative ways, such as harvesting virtual fish in a way that promotes sustainability. Even distressing nature scenes, such as a wolf pack hunting and killing an elk, had a positive effect.

The results support the notion that exposure to the natural world seems to “shift people’s preferences from immediate gratification to larger but more distant payoffs,” and suggest that “nature imagery may produce more persuasive appeals [to protect the environment], or better reminders to behave sustainably.”

Quick Studies is an award-winning series that sheds light on new research and discoveries that change the way we look at the world.


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