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Many people have experienced how a walk in the woods on a beautiful Fall day can clear our minds and make us feel good. Whenever I have a problem to solve, I find that a walk on the river trail near my home helps me think more clearly and some of my best ideas seem to arise spontaneously while I am enjoying the colours, scents and sounds of the trail.
There are studies which support the beneficial effects of nature in reducing stress levels and improving mood and cognitive functioning. In a previous post, I referred to the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) which explains the important ways in which natural environments are effective in restoring our ability to direct our attention. I believe this is important information which can helpfully inform how we structure conflict resolution processes because the cognitive capacities that are replenished by contact with nature are those which are vitally important in, for example, a problem-solving process such as mediation.
But here is something else to thing about on a broader scale. There is also evidence that exposure to nature can also reduce the incidence of violent and aggressive behaviours. A study by Kuo and Sullivan looked at the effects of nearby nature on the incidence of psychological and physical (classified as both mild and severe) violence in inner city neighbourhoods. Their study provides strong evidence that we can now add reducing the incidence of interpersonal aggression and violence to the already known benefits of nature. According to the researchers,
"This study demonstrates a link between nature and reduced aggression in an experimental design and provides clear support for the proposed mechanism of attentional restoration. In doing so, it extends attention restoration theory and shows that the theory has implications for a concern as important as levels of aggression and violence in inner-city neighbourhoods."
The implications of information such as this on how we think about conflict and conflict resolution should not be overlooked. As I look around my own city, I notice that the Mayor is now creating an Advisory Committee on crime prevention to address a perceived and feared rise in violence stemming from new found prosperity. I noticed on the council agenda last night as well that they also have an "Urban Forest Advisory Committee" (formerly the "Tree Committee"). I hope these committees will be collaborating.
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