communing with nature has countless powerful benefits – more self-control, increased working memory, lower levels of stress, better moods, decreased blood pressure to name a few – but a new study conducted by psychologists at the university of rochester shows that being exposed to animals just might actually make us more compassionate.

to test prosocial behaviors such as compassion and generosity, 370 different subjects were exposed to either natural settings (calm lakes, wooded forests, vast deserts) or man-made environments (cityscapes, skyscrapers, highways). in two of the experiments, a person was given a $5 prize and told they could share it with a stranger who would then be given an additional $5, though there was no guarantee that the second person would return any of the winnings. researchers found that subjects exposed to nature were significantly more likely to open their wallets and that increased exposure to nature led to an increased willingness to share with strangers.

results of the study led to a cornucopia of hypotheses, of course, but perhaps the “why” is not important. perhaps there are many “why’s” with no single correct answer. perhaps the evident correlation is enough to start thoughtful, meaningful conversations with ourselves and others. perhaps the results touch us in some inexplicable way that leads to a change in our behavior that ultimately makes us better people – and perhaps that is enough in and of itself.

to the ancient greek philosophers, that was the goal of life: to be the very best person you could be. it’s a quest that continues to this very day. we spend money on self-help books, workshops, seminars, schools, often overlooking the vast lessons all around us . . .


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information on the study from The Frontal Cortex by josh lehrer. video from cbs.