We need nature for our physical and psychological well-being. But increasingly, many humans are living in environments that are removed from nature, leading to a lifestyle that is often accompanied by stress and anxiety, emotions that decrease our potential to enjoy and fully experience life.
Many studies have shown that experiences with real nature and exposure to nature imagery reduces stress, anxiety, and aggression, in a wide range of venues, including hospitals, schoolrooms, and assisted living centers.
One of the most violent and stressful human environments is inside correctional facilities, where real nature is almost entirely inaccessible to inmates and staff. With the growth of the incarcerated population of the USA, many corrections systems have created facilities and procedures to isolate certain inmates from the general prison population into intensive management units (IMUs) (also known as Supermax, administrative segregation, special housing). The use of isolation now exists in 44 states, with an estimated 30,000 to 80,000 inmates. Within these isolation units, violent infractions are often prevalent, stress levels are high, and work tends to be more onerous for officers and other staff.
The use of nature imagery as a means of reducing stress and aggression has only minimally been used for reducing stress in prison environments, and nearly always with static images such as murals.
In 2013, staff at the Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI) initiated a Nature Imagery Project and began a collaboration with Dr. Nalini Nadkarni (University of Utah). SRCI chose to provide nature-related video and sounds in an IMU as an intervention to help reduce stress and violence. Other collaborators in the fields of nature media, ecopsychology, and corrections research were invited to the project.
The literature on the stress-reducing properties of nature suggest that this approach could provide a low-cost way to improve behavior in the IMU and in venues that lack direct access to nature, such as senior assisted living centers, military bases, and refugee camps.