Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments: A multi-lab replication


Natural environments are widely believed to have important stress-relieving qualities. One of the first and most influential experiments to test this notion was conducted by Ulrich, Simons, Losito, Fiorito, Miles, and Zelson (1991). In this experiment, 120 subjects first viewed a stressful movie, and then watched a 10-minute videotape of either natural or urban environments. Both in physiological and self-reported measures, stress recovery was faster and more complete when subjects viewed a nature video rather than an urban video. This well-controlled study has had a large and enduring impact. In scientific terms, the study confirmed Stress Reduction Theory as a major paradigm in environmental psychology. In societal terms, the notion that viewing nature images, not just actual nature, can alleviate stress has greatly expanded the scope of nature-based interventions. Such interventions are increasingly applied in contexts where people have to deal with uncontrollable stressors, such as schools, offices, and healthcare. Despite these far-ranging impacts, it remains unclear to what extent the Ulrich et al. findings are empirically reproducible. We therefore propose a multi-lab replication of the Ulrich et al. experiment, involving 11 labs from the Netherlands, Sweden, UK, and USA. Each lab will replicate the original experiment for 80-120 participants, yielding approximately 1,000 participants in total. The replication will measure cardiovascular activity (HRV, RSA, PEP), frontalis muscle tension, and skin conductance as physiological indicators of stress and recovery, and changes in self-reported stress. The proposed study will be the first multi-lab collaboration in environmental psychology, and the largest experiment ever conducted on the stress-relieving effects of nature. The resulting database of sophisticated physiological measurements will be of considerable interest in its own right among psychophysiologists and stress researchers. Finally, the international, high-profile nature of the replication will facilitate the dissemination of findings to applied fields and policy makers.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. K. Tanja-Dijkstra

Affiliated with

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Faculteit der Gedrags- en Bewegingswetenschappen, Psychologie

Team members

Prof. dr. S.L. Koole, Dr. D. Meuwese, Dr. D. Meuwese, Dr. M. Tops PhD


01/09/2017 to 28/02/2019