UC Berkeley study reveals watching nature videos can increase happiness

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A recent UC Berkeley and BBC Earth study found that watching nature videos makes individuals happier.

The study showed that watching nature clips increased positive feelings, such as awe, contentedness and curiosity, and doing so decreased negative feelings, such as tiredness and anger. Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, collaborated with BBC Earth to conduct the study, stating that his love of nature inspired him to carry out the research.

Keltner said in an email that the results of the study did not surprise him.

“For years students at the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab have been using BBC Planet Earth videos to elicit awe in people in our studies; the footage is extraordinary,” Keltner said in an email. “What I was surprised about is that the stress-reducing effects of watching nature videos were greatest in (young adults).”

To conduct the study, the researchers administered online surveys in six countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Australia, South Africa and Singapore. The data collected was weighted to be representative of the population in each country with internet access.

Participants in the study watched one of five clips, two of which were a montage of scenes from BBC Earth’s Planet Earth II series. The three others were footage from a drama series, one a montage of news clips and a control clip. After viewing a clip, participants were asked to consider and rank the extent to which they were feeling 14 emotions on a 10-point scale. Those who had watched the nature videos had an increase in positive emotions and decrease in negative emotions as compared to the news, drama and control clips.

Keltner said he believes the findings of this study could be applied to make social media use a healthier experience.

“These results tell us to make sure we include nature content (or any form of beauty really) that amazes and inspires as part of our new social media diet,” Keltner said in his email.

According to Keltner, the study shows that appreciating nature through photography and film creates feelings of awe in individuals, which has many health benefits. Among these benefits are strengthening the immune system, lowering stress and increasing well-being, Keltner said. He and his team are currently conducting research on the effects of feelings of awe on brain health.

Claire Kremen, a campus professor of environmental sciences, policy and management, said understanding the benefits that nature provides to humans could hopefully encourage nature conservation efforts.

“I think that it is very important to understand and quantify the benefits that nature provide so that we can better appreciate these important benefits and take care of nature,” Kremen said.

Contact Ananya Sreekanth at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @asreekanth_dc.