The Beauty of Nature: A Simple Solution to Complex Problems

This closing post of 2015 looks at a couple of research papers published in the last month or so. One related to pro-social benefits of nature and the other on the familiar theme of wellbeing, although more evidence related to a favourite angle of mine – nature’s beauty.

I’ve blogged about nature’s beauty before following the work of Bateson and Zhang (they don’t get a mention in this paper by Seresinhe and co). They took a novel approach though, using data from geotagged locations on the Scenic-Or-Not website and health data from the Census. Their first task was to investigate what makes a location scenic, including through colour composition. Unsurprisingly scenic locations tend to be open areas without manmade structures. Interestingly though, through examining the proportions of eleven colours, scenes being green wasn’t a straightforward predictor; blue (with grey and brown) was best. This suggests water, skies and mountainous landscapes are rated most scenic, or beautiful.

A Scenic Landscape

A Scenic Landscape

We then move onto the relationship between health and scenery. When controlling for socioeconomic indicators such as income and pollution, those living in more scenic environments report better health. It’s worth returning to Zhang, who found that the relationship between a connection with nature and well-being was only significant for those people attuned and engaged with nature’s beauty. Or in other words, people who appreciate scenery have greater well-being. This suggests the benefits of a beautiful landscape aren’t passive. And encouragingly, that finding beauty in more modest landscapes can be good for health also.

A Micro Landscape near the Co-op

A Micro Landscape near the Co-op

Although the various nuances need to be understood, such well-being benefits of nature are well documented (although not embedded within our lives!). The second recent paper details links between exposure to nature and wider benefits of social cohesion. Weinstein and colleagues surveyed 2000 people, asking them about contact with nature, happiness and community cohesion, and looking at links to crime data (while controlling for socioeconomic factors). After some complex stats they concluded that the quality of contact with nature is related to well-being and social connections, with views of nature being linked to a cohesive community – with this cohesiveness being linked to happiness, performance at work and environmental concern. Closer analysis revealed that people’s contact with nature explained more than double the variance in community cohesion than income, gender, age and education combined.

Interestingly, the work of Zhang links the two recent papers in that pro-social, or helping behaviours such as empathy and generosity were, one again, found to be linked to nature’s beauty. First, in those people disposed to perceive beauty in nature, and then people exposed to beautiful images of nature. So, the story continues to strengthen, contact with nature and appreciation of its beauty is good for nature, and good for you – the solution is simpler than the problems. Let’s hope that is realised in 2016, wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.



Seresinhe, C. I., Preis, T., & Moat, H. S. (2015). Quantifying the impact of scenic environments on health. Scientific reports5.

Weinstein, N., Balmford, A., DeHaan, C. R., Gladwell, V., Bradbury, R. B., & Amano, T. (2015). Seeing Community for the Trees: The Links among Contact with Natural Environments, Community Cohesion, and Crime.BioScience, biv151.

Zhang, J.W., Howell, R.T., Iyer, R., (2014). Engagement with Natural Beauty Moderates the Positive Relation between Connectedness with Nature and Psychological Well-Being,Journal of Environmental Psychology.

Zhang, J. W., Piff, P. K., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Keltner, D. (2014). An occasion for unselfing: Beautiful nature leads to prosociality. Journal of Environmental Psychology.


About Miles

Professor of Human Factors & Nature Connectedness - improving connection to (the rest of) nature to unite human & nature’s wellbeing.
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