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Nature Videos May Be Calming for Prison Inmates

New study adds to evidence that being in contact with nature — real and otherwise — can reduce anger and relieve stress.
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
Delicate arch in Arches National Park, Utah with snow capped La sal Mountains in the backgroundGetty Images

What’s the best TV show to watch if you’re incarcerated? Forget hardcore dramas like “Orange is the New Black,” "Oz" or "Prison Break." One way to escape the miserable reality of prison life may be a good old-fashioned nature show, new research finds.

Forty-eight inmates at Oregon's Snake River Correctional Institute watched nature videos of oceans, forests, jungles and mountains three to four times per week over one year. Compared to other inmates in the cell block, the nature video watchers exhibited far fewer negative emotions and behaviors, such as aggression and nervousness.

“We found that inmates who watched nature videos committed 26 percent fewer violent infractions,” Patricia Hasbach, Ph.D with Northwest Ecotherapy and lead researcher, told NBC News.

There was another unexpected benefit: The relationships between prison guards and inmates improved because the nature videos were helpful during conflicts.

“Sometimes all it took was 15-20 minutes in the nature imagery area to calm them down,” reported one staff member in the study.

The new study adds to growing evidence that being in contact with nature — real and otherwise — can reduce anger and relieve stress in hospitals, schools, assisted living centers, and military sites. “We have evolved as a species embedded in nature and we need nature for our well-being,” says Hasbach, who incorporates the “healing effect of nature” in her work with all her patients.

Hasbach believes the Snake River prison experiment is a model for prisons nationwide. Her team has already been contacted by prisons in six other states that want to know more about the imagery program to help limit stress and violence among inmates.

Hasbach presented the findings Friday at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention in Denver.