If you are impulsive you are more prone to mental health issues and should connect more with nature to guard against problems, researchers at King' College University are claiming after collecting GPS data from smartphones.

The Urban Mind app monitored 108 individuals, who collectively completed 3,013 assessments over a one-week period.

In each assessment, participants answered several questions about their current environment and momentary mental wellbeing. GPS-based geotagging was used to monitor their exact location throughout the one week trial.

The results showed significant immediate and time lagged associations with mental wellbeing for several natural features: trees, the sky and birdsong.

These associations were still evident several hours after exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong had taken place, indicating time-lasting benefits.

Risk assessment 

The investigators were interested in whether the beneficial effects of nature might vary from one individual to another, depending on their risk of developing poor mental health.

To assess this each participant was rated on “trait impulsivity” - a psychological measure of "one’s tendency to behave with little forethought or consideration of the consequences", and a predictor of higher risk of developing addictive disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, antisocial personality disorder and bipolar disorder.

This revealed that the beneficial impact of nature on mental wellbeing was greater in people with higher levels of trait impulsivity and a higher risk of developing mental health issues.

Response

Lucia Robertson, a participant on the project, said: "Using the Urban Mind app made me more aware of my surroundings and how these affect my state of mind. It encouraged me to think hard about what kind of city I want to live in," said Lucia Robertson, a participant on the project.

Dr Andrea Mechelli, from the department of psychosis studies at King’s College, said: "The interaction of this effect with trait impulsivity is intriguing, as it suggests that nature could be especially beneficial to those individuals who are at risk of poor mental health."

"From a clinical perspective, we hope this line of research will lead to the development of low-cost scalable interventions aimed at promoting mental health in urban populations."

The app and research were developed in partnership with landscape architects J & L Gibbons and art foundation Nomad Projects.

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