An experiment carried out at Snake River Correctional Institute found that inmates who were shown nature videos were less likely to be aggressive behind bars. The team believes that the images help relax the inmates, reducing negative emotions and behaviors such as distress, irritability, and nervousness which can cause them to lash out in aggression.
"We need nature for our physical and psychological well-being," said clinical psychotherapist Dr Patricia Hasbach, of ecospychology practice NorthWest Ecotherapy in Oregan, who presented the research.
"Although direct contact with real nature is most effective, studies have shown that even indirect. nature exposure can provide temporary relief from psychological stress in daily life."
The team performed their study at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon which houses 48 inmates. Half of them were given nature videos to view during their scheduled indoor recreation time, three to four times a week over the course of a year. These videos included images of a wide range of environments, such as oceans, forests, rivers, or the Earth viewed from space and cloud fly-throughs. They also included anthropic settings such as aquarium scenes or logs burning in a fireplace. The other half, the control group, were not offered the chance to view the videos.
"Inmate surveys and case study interviews with inmates suggested that negative emotions and behaviors such as aggression, distress, irritability and nervousness were reduced following the viewing of videos and lasted for several hours post-viewing," said Dr Hasbach.
Prisoners who viewers the videos were involved in 26% fewer violent events compared to the control group, though the change can't be directly attributed to the videos. Still, the experiment had such good results that other prisons are starting to showcase nature videos.
"This is equivalent to 13 fewer violent incidents over the year, a substantial reduction in real world conditions, since nearly all such events result in injuries to inmates or officers," Hasbach said.
Prison staff, however, reported through interviews and written surveys that viewing the videos appeared to have a positive effect on the inmates -- so much so that they started using the videos as a targeted intervention when they see warning signs that an inmate may be about to act out.