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Research: Watching Nature Documentaries Increases Positive Emotions

nature. pathway in the forest with sunlight

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It’s not exactly breaking news to know that nature is good for us in so many ways. We know that it’s good for our happiness and health to get outside and appreciate nature. But, what about those of us that just aren’t into… you know, the great outdoors?

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If you’re like me, you may love nature and animals but prefer enjoying them from the comfort of your own couch. Fortunately, there’s an answer for the less outdoorsy types: nature documentaries are your best friend!

The problem is you may wonder if you’re gaining the same benefits from watching nature on TV than from actually getting out there and being in it. The answer is — you are! Rejoice, fellow couch potatoes and lovers of everything cute and furry! You can now have the joy of knowing that watching nature documentaries will do just as much for you as being in nature.

A study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley by psychology Professor Dacher Keltner investigated the links between nature programming and the effect it has on people’s wellbeing and moods. The research found that watching nature shows — even for a short period of time — leads to a rise in positive emotions and a decline in negative emotions.

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So, basically watching nature programs teaches our brains how to be happy and healthier while also reducing bad feelings like anxiety, stress, and fear. Like we needed any more reasons to love otters, pandas, and any other squeezable animal you can name that appears in a documentary!

The study was a joint effort between Professor Keltner and BBC Worldwide’s in-house research team. The global project included over 7,500 nationally represented participants as well as a review of multiple other studies that have examined the relationship between nature and the happiness and health of humans. The team also used special emotion recognition technology to see the viewers responses to the videos.

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The research was inspired by the release of Planet Earth II, the follow-up to BBC’s insanely popular and motivational Planet Earth.

You may be wondering, how exactly do nature documentaries help our health and happiness?

According to Professor Keltner, “The shifts in emotion demonstrated in the BBC study as a result of watching this powerful natural history series are significant as we know that wonder and contentment are the foundations of human happiness. If people experience feelings of awe, they are more likely to display empathetic and charitable behaviors and have been shown to be better able to handle stress.”

So, watching nature shows not only helps us with stress management but also increases positive behaviors like empathy and even the desire to help others.

This amazing study has inspired BBC Worldwide to start The Real Happiness Project, whose goal is advocating for the benefits of connecting with nature through using any type of media device. The Real Happiness Project aims to show what simply watching nature shows can do for us and what WE can do to get involved. In other words, it hopes to continue the findings of the study.

The real conclusion here is that bunnies and otters are basically saving mankind. This is all you need to know.

This guest article originally appeared on People Who Watch Nature Documentaries Are WAY Happier, Says Science.

Research: Watching Nature Documentaries Increases Positive Emotions

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APA Reference
Guest Author, P. (2018). Research: Watching Nature Documentaries Increases Positive Emotions. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 8 Apr 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.