K307 Elsi

Urban parks and forests reduce physiological stress while cities do not: comparisons of visual virtual realities, bird songs and natural smells


Marcus Hedblom
Bengt Gunnarsson
Igor Knez
Pontus Thorsson
Johan Lundström


Stress is an increasing global health problem and particularly profound in cities. Previous research has showed that experiences of urban greenspaces have beneficial consequences for well-being and positive effects on stress recovery. However, at the same time as these are are becoming more recognised for their ecosystem services increasing urbanisation continue to reduce and fragment urban green spaces.
The predominating numbers of existing studies linking urban greenspaces and well-being are still based on self-estimations, lack detailed description of urban green quality such as types of nature, time of exposure and which physiological mechanisms that are affected. Here we compared the effects of physiological stress recovery by combing visual virtual settings of 360 degrees photos with associated olfactory (smells) and auditory (bird songs and noise). 154 respondents were randomised into a park, forest and urban setting. Stress was induced with mild electricity and skin conductance was used as stress reduction indicator. The results showed that there was no significant stress reduction in city centre but in park and forest. High perceived pleasantness in a setting was correlated to lower physiological stress responses for sound and olfactory but not for the visual component. Our findings show that parks as well as forest seem to be important components for stress reduction but it is also important to manage or design these habitats so that bird songs and smells can be perceived. The links between urban greenspaces, human health and spatial planning are complex and are in need of further transdisciplinary studies to contribute to the creation of truly sustainable cities.