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Scenic Commute Cuts Stress

Even with more traffic, driving through the woods increases patience.

Finding a shortcut to work may not be the only way to improve your morning commute. People have more patience for on-road stresses when they drive through scenic, nature-lined streets. This is the case even when judged against roads that have less traffic, but are surrounded by sprawl.

"Not only do we like natural scenes, but they have a physiological effect. People are, in fact, calmed down and relaxed by them," says coauthor Jack Nasar, professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State University.

For the study, 106 participants watched a simulation of a morning commute. Some were shown a four-lane road passing woods with little development. Others were shown commutes with fewer cars on the road, but with more strip malls and less vegetation.

Before the simulation, the participants had been given tests designed to increase frustration—for example, anagrams that had no solution. After their "drive," researchers measured the participants' stress levels with a questionnaire. The drivers who had been on the greener but more congested road were less frustrated.

Nasar gives an evolutionary explanation for the calming effects of natural scenery. "There is an innate response to nature: it has a healing and restorative effect," he says.