Impact of Nature on the Processing of Acute Stress


  • Selma Polte University of Vienna



The aim of this study is to evaluate the impact of nature contact on the processing of acute stress. Existing studies suggest that there is a positive link between exposure to nature and decreased levels of stress [1, 2]. Yet, the temporal dynamics of the effects are not fully understood, and a recent model – the nature-based biopsychosocial resilience model (NBRT) has been developed [3]. This model suggests four pathways on how the positive effects of nature contact are maintained: prevention of exposure to stressors (preventive resilience), through decreasing the initial stress response (response resilience), through facilitating the recovery from an experienced stressor (recovery resilience) by resilience mechanisms, and, through spontaneous restoration without relying on resilience mechanisms (spontaneous restoration).


To test and compare the suggested resilience pathways, an experimental study involving 160 participants will be conducted, in which participants will be exposed to nature stimuli (video) before or after an acute stressor (Maastricht Acute Stress Test), or to a neutral environment (video) as control group. Additionally, participants will engage in a task requiring physical effort to make decisions for themselves or another person (pro-social effort task) Behavioural, physiological, and hormonal data of the participants will be collected to analyse the effect of nature stimuli on emotional states, physiological conditions, and on pro-social behaviour.

Expected Results and Discussion

Based on previous research we expect that participants with exposure to nature compared to participants without exposure to nature will be more resilient towards an acute stressor and engage in a more pro-social behaviour, suggesting that nature contact has a positive impact on individual’s biological, psychological, and social resilience.


As the NBRT model has not been empirically tested yet, this study will provide novel insights into the extent to which the suggested resilience pathways contribute to the stress-reducing effects of being exposed to nature. Findings of this study can be used to design future interventions to build and maintain nature-based resilience, i.e. in the fields of physical and mental health.


[1] R. S. Ulrich et al., “Stress recovery during exposure to natural and Urban Environments,” Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 201–230, 1991. doi:10.1016/s0272-4944(05)80184-7

[2] S. Kaplan and M. G. Berman, “Directed attention as a common resource for executive functioning and self-regulation,” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 43–57, 2010. doi:10.1177/17456916093567843

[3] M. White, et al., "Nature-based biopsychosocial resilience: An integrative theoretical frame to advance research on nature and health" [Manuscript in preparation], Cognitive Science HUB, University of Vienna