People prone to anxiety may recover from stress better in a busy urban environment.
The findings fly in the face of research finding that natural environments restore people’s cognitive abilities.
For more neurotic people, busy urban environments may beat quiet natural environments for helping them calm down.
Dr Kevin Newman, the study’s first author, said:
“Previous literature says that natural environments tend to restore cognitive abilities better than urban environments, but we questioned whether this one-sided perspective was accurate.”
For the research people were asked to perform tasks that exhausted them mentally.
For example, they had to write sentences without using the letters ‘A’ or ‘N’.
Afterwards they were given tasks that exposed them to words that either suggested an urban environment or a natural setting.
Surprisingly, those with more neurotic personalities did better when the test suggested a busy urban environment.
People lower on neuroticism, though, did better when peaceful natural settings were suggested.
Dr Newman said:
“People tended to do better in environments that fit with their personality.
Imagine someone with a neurotic personality like Woody Allen.
If you put him in a forest it could be very off-putting rather than rejuvenating.”
Neurotic people also showed better performance when exposed to words that were frenetic but related to nature, such as ‘cliff’ and ‘thunder’.
Similarly, non-neurotic people did better when exposed to calm words related to the city.
For the non-neurotic, seeking out a quiet place in the city like a library or bookstore could provide the required cognitive recovery.
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The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (Newman & Brucks, 2016).