How the Colour Green Affects Our Mood

Psychologists have known for quite some time now that being in nature is good for improving our mood and general sense of wellbeing, writes the award-winning journalist and author, Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian Weekend. He has specialized in making the results of psychological research available to the general reader. Doctors should probably now add “landscape therapy” as well as "swimming with dolphins" to their list of treatment suggestions for people with low mood.

The practical problem is how to get time off to enjoy the countryside if you live in a town or city and have a busy job and family life. So it’s interesting to learn that a new range of psychological studies have shown that even very limited contact with nature can be beneficial. People who work in an office but can see a tree through their window are happier. In a study carried out at the University of Oregon, workers who could see some greenery took fewer days off sick than those who could see no greenery. Looking at a photograph of a country scene can lower your blood pressure. A German study showed that looking at a green rectangle for two seconds compared with looking at a rectangle that was white, grey, blue or red improves people’s performance on creative tasks.

One plausible explanation of these results comes from E.O. Wilson, the Harvard sociobiologist, who has coined the term “biophilia” to refer to the “urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. A variation of this idea is the suggestion that we actually feel safest when we are looking at nature from a sheltered place. On this theory we feel better if we are looking at the countryside through a window rather than walking through it. This might appeal to people who do not like too much physical exercise.

Finally, a suggestion of my own: for those who have nothing green to look at from their window and don’t want to take medication for their low mood, then looking at the green cover of a book from Kiener Press might even have an anti-depressant effect.

Paul Crichton
London, 20 March, 2013

Burkeman, O. Nature Can Nurture, Guardian Weekend, 16 March, 2013
Antonioli C. and Reveley M. Randomised controlled trial of animal facilitated therapy with dolphins in the treatment of depression, British Medical Journal; Nov. 26, 2005; vol. 331; p. 1231–1234