Gazing at images of the great outdoors has been linked with a range of benefits, including pain relief, stress recovery and mood improvement. Now a study published in May 2014 in PLOS ONE adds impulse control to that list. Researchers at Utah State University asked three groups of participants to complete a task that tests whether they could resist instant gratification for a better reward later on. Before and during the task, the nature group viewed images of mountains, whereas the other groups looked at pictures of buildings or triangles. Participants who viewed natural scenes made less impulsive decisions than the other groups.
Follow-up experiments revealed that seeing nature makes us think more about the future, says the study's lead author Meredith S. Berry, a psychologist now at the University of Montana. “When time is expanded, it is easier for people to imagine the future, and this effect appears to lessen the draw of immediate temptations.” These findings mean that even when you're stuck at the office until sundown, you can still reap some cognitive benefits by looking at images of natural landscapes on your computer screen—and it may just keep you from raiding the office fridge.