Watching nature programs makes you happier: BBC study

Watching nature programs will have a direct and uplifting impact on the mood and well-being of its viewers, according to a new study released by BBC Earth, the BBC’s global factual brand.

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“The Real Happiness Project,” which aims to promote the benefits of connectivity with nature via linear and digital platforms, was conducted by BBC Worldwide’s in-house research team with Professor Dacher Keltner, who oversees psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, on a two-phased study.

The study surveyed more than 7,500 participating viewers from the U.S., UK, Singapore, India, South Africa and Australia. Viewers were asked to complete a short survey to establish their mood prior to being shown clips from Planet Earth II (pictured). Their real-time responses were then recorded using facial mapping technology from tech start-up Crowd Emotion, which specializes in emotion recognition, to understand how viewers responded to the video footage.

The research confirmed that “even short engagement” with natural history programming led to “significant increases in positive emotions including awe, contentedness, joy and amusement,” while significantly decreasing such negative emotions as nervousness, anxiety, fear, stress and tiredness.

“The shifts in emotion demonstrated in the BBC study as a result of watching this powerful natural history series are significant as we know that wonder and contentment are the foundations of human happiness,” Keltner said in a statement. “If people experience feelings of awe, they are more likely to display empathetic and charitable behaviors and have been shown to be better able to handle stress.”

Positivity increases for women watching Planet Earth II clips were 35% higher than among men. The clips also had a more noticeable effect on youths, aged 16 to 24, who were feeling higher levels of negative emotions at the outset of the study. Younger people experienced the greatest amounts of change in nine of the 14 emotion sets amongst all age groups.

The BBC study adds to a growing body of scientific evidence proving that a connection to nature is of fundamental importance to a person’s health, happiness and wellbeing.

In addition, Keltner carried out an extensive review of 150-plus scientific studies that explored the relationship between emotion and nature. The review revealed multiple positive effects to connecting with nature, including enhanced attention, focus and cognitive performance while helping to manage the stresses of modern living.

The research was commissioned to mark the launch of Planet Earth II, which recently premiered via BBC America. The premiere became the network’s most-watched unscripted telecast in total viewers, with 2.7 million total viewers, including 1.2 million adults in the 25-54 demographic.

“What excites me about this study is seeing how Planet Earth II connects with people on a deep emotional level – as a filmmaker, that is very rewarding,” added Planet Earth II exec producer Mike Gunton. “We’re always striving to bring our audiences closer to nature and it’s thrilling to see how this can generate such positive emotions and have a powerful impact on our viewer’s mood and wellbeing. I hope that in sparking an appreciation of the natural world Planet Earth II will also encourage people to love and protect the natural world.”

BBC Earth will support the project by publishing a variety of exclusive content across its social platforms.

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