bias indicates that the researchcommunity is less likely to embark ona study that attempts to disconfirmthe idea that a walk in a park hasbenefits, than it is to attempt toconfirm the hypothesis. Researcherstend not to invest effort in discountingthe results from an experiment thatconfirms what everyone wants tobelieve.
THE PLACEBO EFFECT
Perhaps people feel better for beingin natural environments because theythink they will. In a seminal studyinto exercise and the placebo effect, agroup of hotel cleaners were told theirdaily routine met all their exerciseneeds for health and well-being [ 17].
Their psychological and physiological
health was later measured to be higher
than that of a control group doing the
same work who were not told their
daily routine was good for them. The
authors of the study, Alia Crum and
Ellen Langer, found that compared
with the control group, the group
see the world. At this stage it’s worth
drawing in two other factors that
contribute to the bias of the natural
over the technological.
In many respects the case for natureis an easy one to make, and it’seasy to find supporting evidence,particularly as researchers tend tolook for confirmation of a propositionthey want to support, rather thanthe converse. We repress the obviousdisbenefits of being outdoors.
Colleagues and I conducted a pilotstudy to show that walking in a parksetting produces a measurable dropin stress levels [ 16]. We deployed amobile EEG head-mounted measuringdevice to track the movement of 12participants along a predefined route.
Our research picked up evidence of a
positive effect. It will be interesting
to see if any researchers deploy
similar techniques to disconfirm
the hypothesis, but that seems
unlikely. The theory of confirmation
primed with the idea that cleaning
and making beds was good exercise
“showed a decrease in weight, blood
pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio,
and body mass index.” The authors
assert: “These results support the
hypothesis that exercise affects health
in part or in whole via the placebo
effect.” I’ve yet to find a study that
says something similar about being
outdoors, but it appears that if you
believe in something, that whole
frame of expectations will have an
effect (positive or negative).
The meaning structures thatunderlie nature myths are the same asthose that affect empirical evidencegathering. Researchers seek evidencefor the benefits of being outdoorsthanks to the wealth of culturalaffirmations supporting people’saffinity with gardens; for example,the Garden of Eden and the myth ofthe Primitive Hut, the first dwellingfashioned out of the trunks of trees[ 18]. We gather evidence from theworld as encountered through ourcultural conditioning.
I’m not aware of any studies thatdemonstrate a placebo effect amongthose who are persuaded that digitaldevices are good for them, make lifesimpler, increase access to knowledge,and enhance curiosity. Perhaps itmakes less sense to speak of a placeboeffect outside of a medical context. Weare also in the realms of “self-fulfillingprophecies,” consumer behavior,brand loyalty, and the nature of desire[ 19]. It’s well known that consumerswill claim benefits from something inwhich they have invested a great dealof money. Consumers will be reluctantto assert that their latest electronicdevice brings anything other thanbenefits.
TAKING YOUR SMARTPHONE
FOR A WALK
How do technologies fit into ourexperience of natural environments?Consider a domestic scenario. Youorder your dinner online, waitfor delivery, then eat while multiscreening in front of the televisionand checking Facebook, while othermembers of the household work late,snack, or play computer games indifferent rooms.
For philosopher of technologyAlbert Borgmann, such a scriptsignals a challenge to the moral as