A new study, led by Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University, found that showing pictures of the natural world boosted how participants felt about their own appearances.
The positive impact of nature on body image is believed to be because natural environments – either real life or simulated (photos were shown on a digital screen for this study) – have the capacity to restore psychological resources.
The study stated they are a source of “soft fascination”, holding attention without effort and helping to restrict negative appearance-related thoughts. Natural environments were also found to promote immersion and engagement, helping to shift attention toward greater appreciation for the body’s functionality instead of what it looks like.
“We know that exposure to nature brings benefits for psychological wellbeing, including healthier body image,” said Professor Swami in a statement. “But, given that not everyone has access to nature – as we saw during the lockdowns – it is important to find ways of bringing nature to everyone.”
“Our study shows it may be possible to develop low-cost intervention programmes by using images of the natural world. These programmes could promote healthier body image across diverse populations, including those with limited access to real nature perhaps due to health reasons or where they live.”
The study was conducted with 168 volunteers who were assigned to one of three groups. The first group viewed 15 high-resolution images of green spaces, the second group blue spaces and the third group viewed pictures of buildings.
All participants completed a questionnaire before and afterwards to measure their body appreciation, which included statements such as “Right now, I respect my body”.
The results were delivered at the British Science Festival in Chelmsford, and will later be published in the Body Image journal.