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New eye-tracking research has shown that simply looking at natural elements during urban walks can offer significant mental health benefits.

The study, by Bangor University and Technion- Israel Institute of Technology, published in the scientific journal People and Nature, involved city-dwellers, and showed how paying visual attention to greenery, rather than human-made structures, can alleviate anxiety and enhance restorative feelings.

The 117 urban residents who took part in the study, were guided on a 45-minute urban walk, while wearing eye-tracking glasses. They were instructed to focus their gaze on trees, plants, lawns and flowers, man-made structures or a mix of both. This unique methodology revealed that a participants’ focus on nature was associated with improvements in various mental health metrics, including anxiety levels and feelings of restorativeness.

Dr Whitney Fleming, a lecturer in Human Geography at Bangor University explained the findings, saying,

“We found that the individuals who were guided to direct their gaze more frequently at green elements reported a significant reduction in anxiety, with trees showing the most substantial positive effect.”

The study highlights a strong link between observing green elements, especially trees, and an increase in perceived restorativeness, suggesting that even brief interactions with nature can provide mental health benefits.”

Urban Design Implications

These insights offer valuable guidance for urban planners and architects, suggesting that integrating more natural features into city landscapes can play a crucial role in enhancing the mental well-being of residents. “The Nature Gaze” study supports the idea of urban environments that promote engagement with nature, highlighting a simple yet effective strategy for improving urban mental health.

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