Anxiety and fear give way to joy and awe when we tune into scenes of the natural world.
A chinchilla warms itself in the sun in this scene from the BBC's new nature documentary series 'Planet Earth II.' (Photo: BBC)
Need a mood boost, but don't have time to hit the great outdoors? Try the next best thing and turn on a nature documentary.
A recent study has found that tuning into nature documentaries can have an immediate impact on increasing happiness and reducing overall stress. The study was commissioned by the BBC to mark the launch of its new critically-acclaimed nature series "Planet Earth II."
You can see a clip from the series, which recently debuted in North America, below.
While nature programming has long been found to bring smiles to people's faces, the BBC was curious to understand more about the connection between the two. To help gauge what exactly is happening while we watch these scenes, the network partnered with Professor Dacher Keltner, who studies the science of emotion at the University of California, Berkeley, and a technology startup called Crowd Emotion.
Using special facial recognition software fed by webcams, the research team analyzed the expressions in real-time of 7,500 participants from the U.S., UK, South Africa and Australia. Before and after watching clips from the series, the volunteers were also asked to complete short surveys on their emotional well-being.
According to the study results, those engaged in watching nature programming had significant increases in feelings of awe, amazement, wonder; curiosity, interest and wanting to explore. Conversely, feelings of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and low energy were significantly lowered.
"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," Professor Keltner said in a statement. "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."
In addition to the new paper, Professor Keltner also conducted a review of 150 scientific studies that previously explored the relationships between emotion and nature. The overall consensus was that exposure to nature, whether first-hand or through programming, decreases stress, increases calm, and improves cognitive performance.
"Planet Earth II" is currently airing in the U.S. on BBC America and will likely be coming to a streaming service near you sometime later this year. For now, give yourself a boost and watch this adorable clip of an aardvark snuffling below.