Researchers use eye-tracking technology to assess wellbeing benefits of looking at nature

A new study has found that paying visual attention to greenery in urban environments can relieve anxiety

A child faces away from the camera wearing a brown corduroy coat with red elbow patches. In the distance there are bushes and trees
Pixabay/Annie Spratt

New research from Welsh and Israeli scientists has explored the wellbeing effects of looking at nature using eye tracking technology.

The study, which was published in People and Nature, involved participants taking part in a guided 45-minute walk close to a university campus in Haifa, Israel while wearing eye tracking glasses.

A total of 117 participants were recruited to the study over a nine-month period, with an average age of 26.

During the walk, participants were instructed to direct their attention to natural (green) and human-made (grey) elements in the surroundings.

The researchers found that people who focused more on green features reported a decrease in anxiety and higher levels of perceived restoration.

In contrast, those who spent a higher proportion of time viewing grey elements reported increased anxiety and lower levels of perceived restoration.

Viewing trees had the highest connection with wellbeing measures compared to other green features.

“Our results indicate that a simple behaviour change (directing visual attention to elements of nature instead of grey elements) can produce mental health benefits in the form of reducing anxiety and perceived restoration for people in urban areas,” the authors highlighted.