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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jul 14;112(28):8567-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1510459112. Epub 2015 Jun 29.

Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.

Author information

1
Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305; gbratman@stanford.edu gdaily@stanford.edu.
2
Laureate Institute for Brain Research, School of Community Medicine, Tulsa, OK 74136;
3
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
4
Center for Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, and Woods Institute, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305; Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm 114 18, Sweden gbratman@stanford.edu gdaily@stanford.edu.

Abstract

Urbanization has many benefits, but it also is associated with increased levels of mental illness, including depression. It has been suggested that decreased nature experience may help to explain the link between urbanization and mental illness. This suggestion is supported by a growing body of correlational and experimental evidence, which raises a further question: what mechanism(s) link decreased nature experience to the development of mental illness? One such mechanism might be the impact of nature exposure on rumination, a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses. We show in healthy participants that a brief nature experience, a 90-min walk in a natural setting, decreases both self-reported rumination and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC), whereas a 90-min walk in an urban setting has no such effects on self-reported rumination or neural activity. In other studies, the sgPFC has been associated with a self-focused behavioral withdrawal linked to rumination in both depressed and healthy individuals. This study reveals a pathway by which nature experience may improve mental well-being and suggests that accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.

KEYWORDS:

emotion regulation; environmental neuroscience; nature experience; psychological ecosystem services; rumination

PMID:
26124129
PMCID:
PMC4507237
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1510459112
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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