Some of the most important benefits that trees provide to humans are psychological or emotional in nature. While countless authors, arborists and philosophers have mused that trees help to clear the mind and invigorate the soul, it is important to realize that these claims are not merely conjecture. Scientists have collected plenty of evidence that supports the notion that trees and natural areas improve one’s mood and provide people with an increased sense of well-being.
In 1984, Doctor Roger S. Ulrich published a study, which sought to determine if trees (and natural landscapes in general) provided tangible benefits for people recovering from surgery.
Between 1972 and 1981, Ulrich analyzed the recovery details on patients who had recently had their gallbladders removed. Ulrich grouped the patients in pairs, based on criteria such as age, gender and preexisting health conditions. One member of each pair stayed in a recovery room that provided a view of a natural-looking patch of deciduous trees, while the other member recovered in a room that only provided a view of a brick wall.
Ulrich’s results were eye opening, and forever changed the nature of hospital architecture and landscaping. In the study, Ulrich compared the length of the patient’s stay, medications administered, complications and the nurse’s notes regarding patient care. Ulrich found that those patients whose windows faced the trees recovered significantly faster, exhibited fewer complications and required fewer pain-relieving medications, than their brick-wall-facing counterparts did. (RS Ulrich, 1984)
Standing on the Shoulders
In the years following publication of his study, numerous researchers have confirmed and expanded upon Ulrich’s work. One such example was published in a 2001 issue of “Environment and Behavior.” In the study, researcher Rachel Kaplan found that residents of suburban apartments whose windows overlooked natural areas experienced a greater sense of well-being and satisfaction with the neighborhood, than those whose windows overlooked man-made structures and scenes. (KAPLAN, 2001)
In 2007, Richard A. Fuller and his colleagues investigated the relationship between biodiversity and the psychological benefits that higher biodiversity may provide. The results of the study found that the participants (laypersons) were able to discern broad patterns in plant biodiversity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the higher the biodiversity of the green space, the more benefit the participants derived. (Richard A Fuller, 2007)
Climbing Up the Right Tree
However, none of this should imply that trees and natural areas are only helpful in a passive context – interacting with trees can also produce significant psychological benefits. Take for example, a 2006 study, conducted in Japan and published in the journal “Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.” During the course of the study, researchers administered psychological tests to people who climbed concrete towers and trees. The researchers found that the climbers scored better on a battery of psychological tests after climbing trees than they did after climbing the cement towers, despite the fact that the towers were in the same location and were of equal height. (John Gathrighta, 2006)
Just the Beginning
While it is quite clear that trees and natural spaces provide concrete psychological benefits to the people living near them, scientists still have much to learn about the interrelationship between humans and trees. Nevertheless, this much is clear: Spending time around trees is not only fun, but it is also good for your psyche. If you live in the Los Angeles area, check out this list of local nature centers, which can help you get out of the city and spend some time healing in the company of trees.
John Gathrighta, Y. Y. (2006). Comparison of the physiological and psychological benefits of tree and tower climbing. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.
KAPLAN, R. (2001). THE NATURE OF THE VIEW FROM HOME. Environment and Behavior .
Richard A Fuller, K. N.-W. (2007). Psychological benefits of greenspace increase with biodiversity. Royal Society Biology Letters.
RS Ulrich, e. a. (1984). View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery. Science.