Reduction of physiological stress by urban green space in a multisensory virtual experiment

Sci Rep. 2019 Jul 12;9(1):10113. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-46099-7.


Although stress is an increasing global health problem in cities, urban green spaces can provide health benefits. There is, however, a lack of understanding of the link between physiological mechanisms and qualities of urban green spaces. Here, we compare the effects of visual stimuli (360 degree virtual photos of an urban environment, forest, and park) to the effects of congruent olfactory stimuli (nature and city odours) and auditory stimuli (bird songs and noise) on physiological stress recovery. Participants (N = 154) were pseudo-randomised into participating in one of the three environments and subsequently exposed to stress (operationalised by skin conductance levels). The park and forest, but not the urban area, provided significant stress reduction. High pleasantness ratings of the environment were linked to low physiological stress responses for olfactory and to some extent for auditory, but not for visual stimuli. This result indicates that olfactory stimuli may be better at facilitating stress reduction than visual stimuli. Currently, urban planners prioritise visual stimuli when planning open green spaces, but urban planners should also consider multisensory qualities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Cities
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Forests
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Skin
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Smell
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Urban Health
  • Virtual Reality*
  • Vocalization, Animal