One More Benefit of Nature: It Makes You Like Your Body Better
By Tom Jacobs
Not happy with what you see when you look in a mirror? Well, you can take a hike.
Seriously. New research from the United Kingdom finds strolling in nature—or even looking at photographs of the natural world—leaves people feeling better about their bodies.
In recent years, a series of studies have found that time spent in nature offers a range of benefits, from easing depression to increasing altruism. This latest work suggests it can also mute internal criticism of one's less-than-perfect figure.
In the journal Body Image, a research team led by psychologist Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge describes five studies that demonstrate this dynamic. The first featured a group of university undergraduates who looked at and evaluated a series of photographs.
Half saw images of the natural world, such as lakes, mountains and forests, while the others were exposed to urban scenes such as city streets and industrial buildings.
Before and after the viewing, all participants filled out a body image survey. They reported how satisfied or dissatisfied they felt about their weights, the size and shape of their bodies, and their physical appearances in general.
Those who viewed images of the natural world were significantly more satisfied with their bodies at the end of the experiment than they were when it started. This positive shift in attitude did not occur among those who saw cityscapes.
After replicating these results in two additional studies, the researchers tried a different approach: examining the effect of actually spending time in nature. The participants, 84 women and 79 men, all took a one-and-a-half-mile-long walk.
Half strolled "through a natural environment in Hampstead Heath, a 790-acre green space in north London encompassing ponds, woodlands, hills and landscapes," the researchers write. The others "began at the same starting point, but when through a medium-density built environment encompassing high-rise housing blocks, offices and garages (and) small shops."
Before and after their journey, all participants filled out a "body appreciation" questionnaire, in which they noted their level of agreement with statements such as "I feel good about my body" and "I am comfortable in my body."
The results: Those who took the nature walk scored significantly higher on the second test, indicating a higher degree of acceptance of their bodies. In contrast, scores actually dropped for those who took the walk in the city.
"There are several reasons why exposure to nature could be having this effect," Swami said in announcing the findings. "It might be that it distances people, physically and mentally, from appearance-focused situations that are one of the causes of negative body image."
In addition, spending time in a natural setting "may provide people with cognitive quiet, which in turn may foster self-compassion," the researchers write.
Or perhaps it simply reminds us of the insignificance of our own problems, and inspires a decrease in self-consciousness. Nature can do that. After all, no bear ever felt bad about her body.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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