Human brain activation in response to visual stimulation with rural and urban scenery pictures: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study

Posted by Siru Heiskanen on Sep 14, 2017
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Authors: Kim, T. H., Jeong, G. W., Baek, H. S., Kim, G. W., Sundaram, T. and Kang, H. K.

Year of publication: 2010

Publication: Science of the Total Environment 408, pp. 2600–2607.

Keywords: nature, happiness,

Link to publication

Rapid urbanization has caused environmental changes, which threaten human health and quality of life. Studies have shown that the human body might be influenced by physiological activity in response to the surrounding environment. This study (2010) aimed to differentiate brain activation associated with two extreme types of living environments, rural and urban, by using a high field fMR imaging.

A total of 30 subjects aged 20–39 years participated in the study. They were shown still photographs depicting rural and urban surrounding environments with the use of a functional magnetic resonance imaging technique. A total of 4125 raw data were acquired per individual. To mimic rural environments, images of forests, gardens, parks and hills were shown. To mimic urban areas, apartments, high buildings, offices, factories and traffic were shown. The data was analyzed with random effect group analysis with the use of one-sample and two-sample t-tests. The subjects also filled in a questionnaire related to lifestyles, living experiences in rural and urban environments, and current living environments. Mental Status Examination was also used to evaluate the perceived subjective feelings about the presented scenes. Responses to the picture views were assessed for three levels: peaceful, accustomed, and suffocated.

The study resulted in:

  • natural scenes showing levels of peaceful for 90 % of the subjects, accustomed for 6.7 % and suffocated for 3.3 %
  • urban scenes in turn showed levels of peaceful for 0 % of the subjects, accustomed for 46.7 %, and suffocated for 53.3 %

The average activation for the whole brain was similar for both rural and urban scenery; however, the averages corresponding to the cortical regions showed different results. Greater activation of certain areas of the brain during exposure to either natural (p<0.01) or rural (p<0.01) sceneries shown in this study suggest an inherent preference towards nature-friendly living.

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