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How Springwatch could put a spring in your step

Published: 19 June 2018 at 09:11

River Cam

New study shows that watching films set in a natural environment boosts body image

New research shows that watching TV programmes such as Springwatch and Countryfile might actually be good for you.

The study by academics from Anglia Ruskin University and Perdana University in Malaysia, published in the journal Body Image, has investigated the effects of watching short films showing both natural and urban environments. 

Participants watched two three-minute films, shot from a first-person perspective, produced by Anglia Ruskin University’s StoryLab research institute.  One was of a walk through streets in Cambridge city centre and the other was on the banks of the River Cam in Grantchester, just outside Cambridge.

Lead researcher Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, carried out a previous study showing that spending time in green spaces, such as parks, helps to promote positive body image, which includes respecting your own body and rejecting rigid ideals around appearance.

This new study found that similar, immediate improvements in body appreciation could be achieved by watching a film depicting a natural environment.  The film showing city streets had no effect, either positive or negative, on participants’ body appreciation. 

Professor Swami said: 


“There are a number of possible explanations for our results, including the idea that natural environments promote ‘soft fascination’, which is a state of cognitive quiet that fosters self-kindness and helps individuals have a more compassionate view of their body.  Views of rivers and trees are also devoid of any reminders of materialism, and so allows the viewer respite from thoughts of consumption and image. 

“However, more work still needs to be done to fully understand exactly how exposure to natural environments promotes improvements in body image, as well as how our findings here translate to how people view nature films outside the laboratory.  For example, if we watch Springwatch on the sofa whilst at the same time checking our Twitter feed, it’s possible the natural scenes might not have the same immersive effect.

“However, our findings suggest that there could be a straightforward and low-cost solution for promoting healthier body image, particularly for individuals who may not have easy access to real natural environments, for example if they live in a city centre or because of a lack of mobility.”