These trends have not gone unnoticed, of course, and there is a growing concern about the “sedentary lifestyle,” and our loss of connectedness with nature. But the results from Weinstein et al. suggest something else—that this reduction in our exposure to the natural world could drive large-scale shifts in societal values. As their results show, experiences with strictly built environments lead to life aspirations that are more self-focused. These results may help explain the increase in aspirations for fame, wealth, power, achievement, and other self-enhancing values in Western society and predict that this trend is likely to continue.
So the next time you feel like you have lost sight of what is important, take a walk outside. Immerse yourself in the experience. Clear your head by listening to the sounds of the birds, the smell of the sage, and the touch of the breeze. These are the experiences that open our mind and help us to realize that we are part of a larger community.
Are you a scientist? Have you recently read a peer-reviewed paper that you want to write about? Then contact Mind Matters co-editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe, where he edits the Sunday Ideas section.