A new U.S. study looking at which environment is most restorative mentally has found perhaps surprisingly that a calming walk in nature is not always the best choice for all.
Researchers at Providence College in Rhode Island found that the type of environment that is most restorative and rejuvenating mentally depends on your personality type, with those that are more prone to neuroticism better suited to a walk in a busy, urban environment rather than a natural one.
For their research the team asked participants to perform tasks that were mentally draining, such as writing sentences without using the letters "A" or "N."
Participants then had to answer questions that would help the researchers determine their level of neuroticism, including questions on whether they were a worrier, irritable, highly strung or experienced up and down moods.
The group members were then all asked to perform tasks which exposed them to words or pictures associated with either a natural or urban environment.
"Imagine someone with a neurotic personality like Woody Allen. If you put him in a forest it could be very off-putting rather than rejuvenating."
The results showed, perhaps surprisingly, that those with neurotic personalities felt more restored mentally after seeing words related to a busy urban environment.
Those who were less neurotic showed the opposite result, and were more rejuvenated after seeing the nature-related words.
"People tended to do better in environments that fit with their personality," commented lead author Kevin Newman, "Imagine someone with a neurotic personality like Woody Allen. If you put him in a forest it could be very off-putting rather than rejuvenating," he added.
Evoking the experience
The results also showed that you don't necessarily have to experience these environments for real, and a suitable substitute could have the same effect.
For example the study's neurotic participants benefited mentally just from looking at words that conjured up a stressful, frenetic urban environment.
And those with low levels of neuroticism who were better suited to a natural environment could rejuvenate themselves by finding a peaceful place in an urban setting, such as a bookstore or library.
In addition, the results also suggested that rejuvenating oneself mentally was linked to better self-control, as long as people choose the environment better suited to their personality. Improved self-control could have important implications for health, as it could lead towards making healthier food choices.
Newman believes that his results could also be significant as previous studies have shown that levels of neuroticism have been on the increase in Americans in recent decades.
More on the research can be found online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
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