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Previously studies have shown that nature improves mood and self-esteem and reduces blood pressure. Walking within a natural environment has been suggested to alter autonomic nervous system control, but the mechanisms are not fully understood. Heart rate variability (HRV) is a non-invasive method of assessing autonomic control and can give an insight into vagal modulation. Our hypothesis was that viewing nature alone within a controlled laboratory environment would induce higher levels of HRV as compared to built scenes. Heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP) were measured during viewing different scenes in a controlled environment. HRV was used to investigate alterations in autonomic activity, specifically parasympathetic activity. Each participant lay in the semi-supine position in a laboratory while we recorded 5 min (n = 29) of ECG, BP and respiration as they viewed two collections of slides (one containing nature views and the other built scenes). During viewing of nature, markers of parasympathetic activity were increased in both studies. Root mean squared of successive differences increased 4.2 ± 7.7 ms (t = 2.9, p = 0.008) and natural logarithm of high frequency increased 0.19 ± 0.36 ms(2) Hz(-1) (t = 2.9, p = 0.007) as compared to built scenes. Mean HR and BP were not significantly altered. This study provides evidence that autonomic control of the heart is altered by the simple act of just viewing natural scenes with an increase in vagal activity.
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Eur J Appl Physiol
DOI 10.1007/s00421-012-2318-8
The eVects of views of nature on autonomic control
V. F. Gladwell · D. K. Brown · J. L. Barton ·
M. P. Tarvainen · P. Kuoppa · J. Pretty ·
J. M. Suddaby · G. R. H. Sandercock
Received: 20 July 2011 / Accepted: 7 January 2012
© Springer-Verlag 2012
Abstract Previously studies have shown that nature
improves mood and self-esteem and reduces blood pres-
sure. Walking within a natural environment has been sug-
gested to alter autonomic nervous system control, but the
mechanisms are not fully understood. Heart rate variability
(HRV) is a non-invasive method of assessing autonomic
control and can give an insight into vagal modulation. Our
hypothesis was that viewing nature alone within a con-
trolled laboratory environment would induce higher levels
of HRV as compared to built scenes. Heart rate (HR) and
blood pressure (BP) were measured during viewing diVer-
ent scenes in a controlled environment. HRV was used to
investigate alterations in autonomic activity, speciWcally
parasympathetic activity. Each participant lay in the semi-
supine position in a laboratory while we recorded 5 min
(n= 29) of ECG, BP and respiration as they viewed two
collections of slides (one containing nature views and the
other built scenes). During viewing of nature, markers of
parasympathetic activity were increased in both studies.
Root mean squared of successive diVerences increased
4.2 §7.7 ms (t= 2.9, p= 0.008) and natural logarithm of
high frequency increased 0.19 §0.36 ms2Hz¡1 (t=2.9,
p= 0.007) as compared to built scenes. Mean HR and BP
were not signiWcantly altered. This study provides evidence
that autonomic control of the heart is altered by the simple
act of just viewing natural scenes with an increase in vagal
Keywords Environment · Nature · Cardiovascular ·
Autonomic control · Vagal activity
Nature has wide ranging positive eVects, but the mecha-
nisms of these eVects are not understood, particularly at a
physiological level. Cohort study data show that viewing
natural landscapes has positive beneWts including:
improved general health perception (Moore 1982); reduced
need for pain relief (Ulrich 1984; Diette et al. 2003; Lechtzin
et al. 2010); improved concentration and attention (Berto
2005); improved cognition (Berman et al. 2008); and
improved self-esteem and mood (Pretty et al. 2007; Barton
et al. 2009).
Meta-analyses (Barton and Pretty 2010) and systematic
reviews (Bowler et al. 2010; Thompson Coon et al. 2011)
demonstrate the eYcacy of exposure to nature in improving
psychological well-being, but there is a paucity of studies
examining physiological eVects (Bowler et al. 2010), possi-
bly due to the diYculties of recording high-quality physio-
logical data outdoors. In addition, to date laboratory studies
of viewing natural scenes prove inconsistent (Bowler et al.
2010). When participants viewed slides of rural or built
scenes there were no signiWcant diVerences in heart rate
(HR) responses (Ulrich 1981). When exposed to a stressor
(elevating HR and blood pressure (BP)) prior to viewing
videos of diVerent environments, natural views were
deemed more ‘restorative’ because they elicited more rapid
Communicated by Susan A. Ward.
V. F. Gladwell (&) · D. K. Brown · J. L. Barton · J. Pretty ·
J. M. Suddaby · G. R. H. Sandercock
Department of Biological Sciences, Centre for Sport and Exercise
Science, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park,
Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK
M. P. Tarvainen · P. Kuoppa
Department of Applied Physics, University of Eastern Finland,
P.O. Box 1627, 70211 Kuopio, Finland
Eur J Appl Physiol
returns to baseline HR (Ulrich et al. 1991; Laumann et al.
2003) and BP (Chang et al. 2008). When treadmill exercise
was incorporated while viewing slides, BP was lower after
a 5-min recovery period after viewing slides depicting natu-
ral scenes when compared with slides depicting built envi-
ronments (Pretty et al. 2005).
To try and understand the physiological eVects of nature,
one area of interest is the control of the autonomic nervous
system (ANS). The ANS is important in the maintenance of
homeostasis and also in normal and stress–responsive phys-
iology. One way of investigating ANS control is studying
heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a well-established
non-invasive tool which gives an indication of the changes
in vagal and sympathetic control of the heart.
Walking or sitting in a natural (forest) environment has
previously been shown to lower HR and BP when com-
pared with a built environment control (Park et al. 2010).
Park and colleagues suggest that an increase in vagally
mediated HRV with simultaneous decreases in sympathetic
components is responsible for the observed reductions in
HR and BP. Another study with similar engagement with
natural environments showed that BP was reduced with
a trend to reduced urinary noradrenaline inferring that
this was driven by a decrease in sympathetic stimulation
(Li et al. 2011).
However, in the outdoor environment, it is diYcult to
control external factors including the weather. In addition,
other elements, including smells and sounds may have pos-
itive or negative inXuences on the ANS. To date, there are
only a handful of studies that have explored ANS (Park
et al. 2010; Li et al. 2011) and these have not been able to
elucidate whether the act of just viewing nature can alter
ANS function. Furthermore, these previous studies have
also included exercise which is likely to alter the physiolog-
ical responses.
This is the Wrst study to explore the underlying physio-
logical mechanisms of nature by isolating viewing
nature in a controlled environment and comparing the ANS
responses to viewing built environments. The use of a con-
trolled environment also allowed the recording of Wnger BP
continually, as well as respiration, both of which can inXu-
ence HRV measures.
Our hypothesis was that the simple act of viewing nature
would alter ANS control with vagal measures of HRV
enhanced during viewing nature compared with built views.
Following ethical approval from the University Ethics
Committee, 35 (22 females) volunteers (comprising staV
and students from the University (mean (SD): age 39.7
(12.1) years) were recruited following an electronic adver-
tisement. Six individuals were excluded due to taking med-
ication which interfered with HR (n= 1), irregular heart
rhythms (n= 4) or severe obesity prohibiting valid readings
(n= 1). All remaining participants (n= 29) were free from
known disease. Participants attended the University labora-
tory on one occasion.
All participants provided informed consent and com-
pleted a health questionnaire (PAR-Q). All testing proce-
dures were carried out between 09:00 h and 14:00 h in a
quiet room with a constant temperature of 22–23°C to stan-
dardise for potential eVects of time of day and temperature,
as recommended when conducting autonomic experiments
(Tukek et al. 2003). Participants were asked to abstain from
food for 2 h and caVeine for 12 h prior to the start of their
tests and not to undertake strenuous physical activity in the
previous 24 h, as such activities may inXuence autonomic
regulation (Sidery and Macdonald 1994; Stubbs and Mac-
donald 1995). A diary was kept to ensure compliance.
ECG (modiWed Lead II conWguration) and continuous
BP (Portapres, FMS, Finapres Medical Systems BV, The
Netherlands) were measured. In addition, respiratory rate
and depth were recorded using a respiratory belt transducer
placed around the lower part of the chest. This strap con-
tains a piezo-electric device that responds linearly to
changes in length induced by chest movement due to
breathing. Breathing rate and depth over each 5-min seg-
ment were analysed to ensure that there were no signiWcant
alterations in these parameters.
Participants rested in the semi-supine position to allow
their HR and BP to stabilise and remained in this position
for the rest of the experiment. All data were sampled at
1,000 Hz and collected by a Powerlab 8SP (Model ML785,
ADInstruments, UK), using Chart 4 software (ADInstru-
ments, UK).
Testing commenced after 15 min of rest to ensure stabi-
lisation of HR. Participants were shown two collections of
slides during the same session. One slideshow contained
natural scenes and the second set incorporated built or
urban scenes lacking greenery (Fig. 1). Participants were
asked to imagine they were in the environment. Slides were
projected on to a screen (1.8 m £1.8 m) situated in front of
the participant.
Half of the participants viewed the natural environment
set of slides Wrst followed by the built environment slides in
a randomised crossover design. The other participants
viewed the built slides Wrst. Ten minutes between the two
sets was allowed, with participants remaining quiet and still
in a semi-supine position whilst looking at a blank screen.
Each slideshow (18 slides) lasted for 5 min with each slide
shown for 17 s. Slides within a slideshow were always
shown in the same order. HR, BP and respiration measure-
ments were recorded for the whole of the 5 min whilst
viewing the slideshow.
Eur J Appl Physiol
Data analysis: heart rate variability
ECG data were analysed using Kubios HRV software
(Niskanen et al. 2004) ( Data for
each set of slides were analysed and averaged over the
5 min periods of viewing slides of either natural or built
environments. No aberrant or ectopic beats were identiWed.
RR intervals were then extracted from the ECG signal and
re-sampled at 4 Hz using cubic spline interpolation to pro-
vide equidistant time points. In the time domain, the mean
R–R interval and HR, standard deviation of RR intervals
(SDRR) and root mean square of successive diVerences
(rMSSD) were calculated as recommended (Task Force
1996). Data then underwent Fast Fourier transformation
(non-parametric) using Welch’s periodogram method. Data
were split into windows of a width of 256 s with an overlap
of 50%. The power spectrum was obtained by averaging
the spectra within these windows. Two spectral compo-
nents of the recording were analysed: low frequency (LF,
0.04–0.15 Hz) and high frequency (HF 0.15–0.40 Hz) spec-
tral power, in accordance with international guidelines
(Task Force 1996). HF provides an indication of parasym-
pathetic activity, whereas LF oscillations result from the
combined activity of both autonomic nervous system
branches (Task Force 1996).
Non-linear analysis was performed using Poincaré plot
analysis, a graphical representation of the correlation
between successive RR intervals with SD1 indicating short-
term variability (analogous to rMSSD and HF) and SD2
indicating overall variability (analogous to SDRR) (Bren-
nan et al. 2001).
Data analysis: blood pressure and baroreceptor sensitivity
Combined measurements of HRV and BP variability give
information on both parasympathetic and sympathetic ner-
vous system activity. Systolic, diastolic and mean BP val-
ues were detected from the measured BP signal for each
heart beat. Systolic BP (SBP) and RR time series were used
in baroreceptor sensitivity (BRS) estimation (the BP value
was as compared to the following RR interval). Both were
Wrst interpolated at 4 Hz and de-trended with smoothing
prior method. BRS values were estimated using two meth-
ods: multivariate autoregressive (AR) spectral estimation
Fig. 1 An example of the slides taken for the built slideshow (a, b) and from the natural slideshow (c, d). There were 18 slides in each slide show
with each slide shown for 17 s
Eur J Appl Physiol
method and sequence analysis. Power spectra were Wrst cal-
culated by Wtting a multivariate AR model of order 22 to
RR and SBP time series. AR coeYcients were then used to
calculate power, coherence and phase spectra (Di Rienzo
et al. 2001). BRS estimates were calculated from the spec-
tra using the frequency–domain alpha technique. Values
were calculated for LF (0.04–0.15) Hz and HF (0.15–
0.4 Hz). Spectrum values were calculated in 301 points
between 0 and 2 Hz and only where coherence was higher
than 0.5 and phase was below 0 were accepted to the sum
of spectrum power.
The sequence method was also used to estimate BRS
values. Sequences were detected from the original signals
where RR interval and SBP value both ascended or when
both descended at the same time for at least three consecu-
tive intervals. Minimum change that was accepted was
5 ms for RR and 1 mmHg for SBP. A regression line (RR
as a function of SBP) was Wtted to the detected sequences,
and then correlations between these variables were calcu-
lated (Pearson’s correlation coeYcient), and those with
r> 0.85 were accepted. The BRS value was then obtained
as the mean slope of the regression lines Wtted to all
accepted sequence points (Di Rienzo et al. 2001).
Data analysis: respiration
The respiratory trace was analysed oZine in Chart by look-
ing at cyclic variables and obtaining average cycle length,
and average of maximum peak height and average of peak
minimum height and average cycle height were calculated
(Table 2).
Statistical analysis
Paired ttests were used to statistically analyse the data for
the eVect of the two types of view (natural versus built)
with signiWcance set at p·0.05. Paired ttests were also
used to statistically analyse the data for the eVect of slide
show one compared with slide show two (irrespective of
type of view) with signiWcance set at p·0.05. All the data
given are normally distributed except for absolute values
for HF and LF (as assessed by Kolomogorov–Smirnov test
for normality). The eVect size was calculated using Cohen’s
dfor all physiological variables.
Twenty-nine participants were included in the analysis.
Mean HR, systolic BP (SBP) and diastolic BP (DBP) were
similar while viewing natural or built environment images
(Table 1). The eVect sizes for all these were very small
(drange 0.04–0.19) (Table 1).
There were no signiWcant diVerences in breathing depth
or cycle duration between the diVerent views (Table 2).
Time domain (SDRR, rMSSD), and non-linear (SD1)
indices of vagal outXow were all signiWcantly higher when
viewing natural versus built environments (Fig. 2; Table 2).
23/29 participants increased rMSSD whilst viewing nature
as compared to built views (Fig. 2). Following natural log
transformation of HF (lnHF), there was also a signiWcant
diVerence in lnHF between natural and built environment
views with 21/29 participants with increased lnHF whilst
viewing nature as compared to built views (Fig. 2). EVect
sizes for vagal indices were moderate (Table 3).
BRS values using AR analysis in the HF domain (BRS-
HF) were signiWcantly greater during viewing natural
scenes compared to built scenes (Table 4). BRS values
obtained using sequence analysis (BRS-UP) were signiW-
cantly higher while viewing natural environments, whilst
BRS-combined was also close to statistical signiWcance
(p=0.06) (Table4). EVect sizes for BRS variables are
classed as small to moderate (Table 4).
An analysis of order eVect was undertaken to ensure
responses were due to the images on the slides and not
which set of slides was presented Wrst. No signiWcant diVer-
ences were found for any parameters.
Previous experimental work suggests exercising in nature
improves mental health, in particular mood and self-esteem
(Pretty et al. 2005, 2007; Barton et al. 2009; Barton and
Pretty 2010; Bowler et al. 2010; Thompson Coon et al.
Table 1 Cardiovascular variables during the two diVerent slide view-
ings: nature and built
Data are shown as mean (SD); n= 29. EVect size is also shown
(Cohen’s d)
HR mean heart rate, SBP systolic blood pressure, DBP diastolic blood
Nature Built SigniWcance EVect size
HR (bpm) 62.6 (9.2) 62.6 (9.3) 0.9 0.04
SBP (mmHg) 116.4 (10.3) 118.4 (11.0) 0.15 0.19
DBP (mmHg) 59.0 (11.0) 59.8 (9.0) 0.25 0.08
Table 2 Respiratory values during the two diVerent slide viewings:
nature and built
Data are shown as mean (SD), n=29
Nature Built SigniWcance
Duration of 1 breathing cycle (s) 4.4 (0.8) 4.2 (0.8) 0.12
Average minimum peak height ¡1.1 (2.1) ¡1.3 (1.6) 0.27
Average maximum peak height 3.3 (2.9) 3.1 (2.5) 0.23
Average cycle height 4.4 (3.0) 4.4 (3.1) 0.89
Eur J Appl Physiol
2011). However, fewer studies report physiological
responses (Bowler et al. 2010) and the underlying physio-
logical mechanisms involved in viewing nature alone are
unclear. Within a laboratory setting, previous studies have
measured HR (Ulrich et al. 1991; Laumann et al. 2003) and
blood pressure volume (Chang et al. 2008) after inducing
stress Wrst to alter baseline values. The nature views
appeared to have a restorative eVect with greater decreases
towards baseline values after the stressor when viewing
nature environments as compared to viewing built environ-
ments. In addition, following an outdoor walk in nature,
urinary noradrenaline levels were found to be lower versus
a built walk (Li et al. 2011). However, all of the previous
papers have inferred that changes in physiological mea-
sures are likely to be induced by the ANS, but have not
measured ANS control using established methods. Only
one previous study has explored the role of the ANS using
HRV, and this was conducted whilst the participants were
exposed to real environments (Park et al. 2010). Although
real environments allow investigations to be ecologically
valid, it makes it more diYcult to undertake a well-con-
trolled study to investigate ANS mechanisms. Our study is
the Wrst to explore ANS control in a controlled environ-
ment, also enabling BP and respiration to be measured
In the current study, alterations in cardiovascular auto-
nomic control (in particular vagal activity) were measured
by the use of well-established non-invasive measures of
HRV and BRS. HRV and BRS-HF increased signiWcantly
during the viewing of nature compared with built environ-
ment scenes, suggesting increases in vagal activity. This
suggests that the simple act of viewing nature may induce
changes in autonomic control, in particular vagal activity.
In the current study, the increases in vagal activity are pres-
ent without prior exercise or stress inducing components, or
the additional factors that are present in a real environment.
The real environment and prior exercise may act synergisti-
cally with the nature views to produce greater physiological
eVects. However, in this study, we wished to explore, in a
Fig. 2 Individual comparisons of responses to built and nature views
for arMSSD, bSDRR, clnHF, dlnLF, eSD1, fSD2 (see text for
explanation of abbreviations). Built is shown on the left of each graph
with nature on the right
Table 3 Measures of HRV during the two diVerent slide viewings:
nature and built
Data are shown as mean (SD), n= 29. The absolute values for HF are
1,039.7 (with range 193.8–3,516.8) ms2Hz¡1 and 868.1 (range 172.9–
2,629.7) ms2Hz¡1 collected during viewing natural and built scenes,
respectively. The absolute values for LF are 709.2 (with range 158.1–
2,268.9) ms2Hz¡1 and 970.0 (range 51.4–7,443.8) ms2Hz¡1 collected
during viewing natural and built scenes, respectively. All the data
shown are normally distributed except for absolute values for HF and
LF (as tested by Kolomogorov–Smirnov test for normality). EVect size
is also shown (Cohen’s d)
SDRR standard deviation of RR interval, lnLF natural log of low fre-
quency spectral power (0.04–0.15 Hz), SD2 long-term variability
Poincare plot, rMSSD root mean squared of successive diVerences,
lnHF natural log of high frequency spectral power (0.15–0.4 Hz), SD1
short-term variability Poincare plot
Nature Built SigniWcance EVect size
Overall variability
SDRR (ms) 54.2 (16.0) 49.0 (13.2) 0.001 0.35
lnLF 6.36 (1.0) 6.32 (0.7) 0.8 0.04
SD2 67.0 (19.1) 60.3 (16.1) 0.008 0.38
Vagal mediated
rMSSD (ms) 50.6 (22.1) 46.4 (18.6) 0.008 0.32
lnHF 6.65 (0.8) 6.45 (0.8) 0.007 0.23
SD1 35.8 (15.6) 32.8 (13.1) 0.008 0.21
Table 4 Measures of BRS during the two diVerent slide viewings:
nature and built
Data are shown as mean (SD), n= 29. These measures generally reXect
vagally mediated changes. EVect size is also shown (Cohen’s d)
BRS baroreceptor sensitivity, BRS-HF derived from cross-spectral
analysis, BRS-UP and BRS-combined derived from sequence analysis
Nature Built SigniWcance EVect
BRS-HF (ms mmHg¡1) 23.1 (11.9) 20.5 (8.5) 0.008 0.25
BRS-UP (ms mmHg¡1) 15.9 (9.6) 12.9 (5.1) 0.048 0.39
(ms mmHg¡1)
14.5 (5.6) 13.7 (5.6) 0.06 0.15
Eur J Appl Physiol
controlled environment, the underlying physiological
mechanisms of the eVects of nature views without the eVect
of prior exercise or stress.
It is likely that the views of nature induced relaxation
and indeed Park et al. (2010) suggest the augmented vagal
activity they observed while participants were engaged
with nature was due to relaxation. Relaxation is also pro-
posed to occur via stress reduction (Ulrich 1981; Ulrich
et al. 1991) or alterations in attentional capacity (Kaplan
and Kaplan 1989). In earlier studies, EEG has shown an
increase in alpha waves (suggesting relaxation) when view-
ing nature, but they did not deWne particular areas of the
brain (Ulrich 1981). Anecdotally, our participants reported
a preference for viewing the natural scenes and feeling
more relaxed. Relaxation can cause changes in breathing
rate and depth and these in turn can aVect HRV. In the cur-
rent study, due to the controlled environment, breathing
rate and depth were able to be measured and were not sig-
niWcantly diVerent between the views with a breathing fre-
quency at 0.24 Hz. We did not control breathing frequency
as previous papers show that HRV measures are not signiW-
cantly aVected by controlled or free breathing if HR is
within normal ranges (Patwardhan et al. 1995; BloomWeld
et al. 2001). We do understand the need for breathing rate
not to be signiWcantly diVerent for a participant in the two
conditions. In practical terms, we believe that in this study
asking participants to breathe to a metronome may have
caused a distraction from viewing the scenes and thus
altered the physiological eVects of viewing.
The rigorous application of established autonomic mea-
sures in a controlled environment advances existing physio-
logical research in this area. The controlled environment
allowed the act of viewing natural environments to be iso-
lated and eliminated other factors that may alter physiology
when humans are exposed to built or natural environments.
These include potentially negative factors, such as noise,
air pollution or potentially positive factors, such as natural
sounds and phytoncides (Li et al. 2011). The authors of pre-
vious studies suggest that the eVects in cardiovascular
markers are caused by walking or being surrounded by the
relaxing forest environments (Park et al. 2010) with the nat-
ural fragrance of trees (phytoncides) contributing to the
reduction in BP and attenuation of biomarkers in the blood
and urine, including noradrenaline (Li et al. 2011). They
suggest BP reductions may be due to a decrease in sympa-
thetic activity and an increase in parasympathetic activity.
The exercise component itself could contribute to some of
the reduction in sympathetic activity and increase in para-
sympathetic activity, although the BP reductions were
greater following nature walks, suggesting an additional
eVect of nature.
Previous experiments that have used the controlled envi-
ronment of a laboratory have generally used prior exposure
to a stressor to increase participants’ HR and BP before
examining recovery and have not measured ANS activity.
Improved recovery of HR (Ulrich et al. 1991; Laumann
et al. 2003) and BP (Chang et al. 2008) while viewing natu-
ral scenes after exposure to a stressor has led to nature
being regarded as ‘restorative’. In contrast to the previous
experiments, we were interested in exploring the direct
eVects of viewing nature on HRV and BRS at rest without
the addition of exercise or a stressor to establish the physio-
logical mechanisms of viewing nature alone. Unfortu-
nately, the physiological changes are less dramatic when
changes are investigated from baseline values, especially in
a well-controlled experiment, where the participant should
be relaxed prior to taking part in the experimental condi-
tions. At rest, the body aims to maintain homeostasis, and
large decreases were not expected in the already low, rest-
ing values in our study for HR (62 beats per minute) or BP
(117/59 mmHg) on exposure to nature. It would be highly
unlikely and unusual for an individual’s HR to drop by
5 beats per minute from this level, which would be needed
to show a signiWcant diVerence. However, it may be
expected that HR would decrease, in conjunction with the
increase in HRV, but this was not the case. This is unsur-
prising since mean HR cannot reXect the oscillating inXu-
ences on cardiac vagal neurones (Gilbey et al. 1984). In a
previous study involving respiratory training, HRV was
measured alongside other markers of vagal activity (includ-
ing measures of HR recovery following exercise), and all
markers indicated that vagal activity increased despite no
signiWcant change in HR (Hepburn et al. 2005). However,
HRV is a sensitive indicator of ANS function and in partic-
ular vagal activity and the utilisation of such measures adds
to existing laboratory data (Ulrich 1981; Ulrich et al. 1991;
Laumann et al. 2003; Berto 2005; Pretty et al. 2005; Ber-
man et al. 2008; Chang et al. 2008) as it provides, for the
Wrst time, information on how viewing nature aVects the
ANS and the interaction of HR and BP in terms of barore-
ceptor activity. However, for comparisons to be made
within participants, respiratory frequency and depth should
not be signiWcantly altered, as was the case in our study.
Increases in HRV measures may have an important
physiological relevance, despite the lack of signiWcant
changes in HR and BP. The alterations that are seen in
lnHF, rMSSD and SD1 give an indication of the degree of
inXuence on cardiac vagal neurones at respiratory frequen-
cies (Task Force 1996), i.e., it does not necessarily imply
that there is an increase in overall vagal tone, but suggests
increased vagal phasic activity. AVerent input from higher
centres and/or from feedback mechanisms (e.g. barorecep-
tors and chemoreceptors) induce changes in vagal neurone
outXow from the nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS). Increases
in vagal neurone outXow can be caused by an increase in
synaptic excitatory input to cardiac vagal neurones; or a
Eur J Appl Physiol
decrease in inhibition elicited by inspiratory drive; or both.
At rest, during normal breathing (as was the case in our
study), if there is an increase in vagal neurone excitability
(maybe via baroreceptor inXuence), R–R interval will
increase. This can be followed by a rebound inhibition of
these vagal neurones by inspiratory drive, decreasing R–R
interval to a greater extent, giving augmented HRV values,
but with an unchanged mean HR. This is likely to be the
case in our participants. The baroreceptors may play a role
in maintaining homeostasis as BRS is elevated during
nature views.
The cause of the increase in vagal excitability is very
interesting, and it is likely that the nucleus ambiguus con-
taining the vagal neurones is inXuenced by other areas of
the brain. Some of the images that we used in our current
study were examined for how aversive and uncomfortable
they were by examining their spatial frequency properties
(Fernandez and Wilkins 2008). Our nature images were
found to be more pleasant and less aversive. Interestingly,
in a recent study which used MRI during natural and urban
views diVerent areas of the brain were stimulated depend-
ing on which scenes were viewed (Kim et al. 2010). The
visual cortex was stimulated more in the urban views than
the natural views. These Wndings may suggest that in part,
the increase in vagal activity may be because the nature
images have less impact on the visual system, with nature
images being able to be processed more eYciently and
inducing diVerent changes within the visual cortex than
images of built slides. The inXuence of visual cortex and
other areas of the brain (maybe the frontal cortex) are likely
to be mediated via the left insular cortex, a region contain-
ing neurones that excite cardiac vagal neurones selectively
via the amygdala as increases in amygdala excitation have
been associated with inhibition of parasympathetic activity
(Thayer and Lane 2009).
Although the results show alterations in HRV measures
for both overall variability and what is considered to be
vagally mediated variability, there were no signiWcant
changes in HR and BP, which may be considered as impor-
tant functional measures. Without signiWcant alterations in
HR and BP, this may limit the conclusions that can be
drawn from the present study.
A further limitation of the study is that although there
are statistically signiWcant diVerences between the two
views, inter-individual diVerences exist in responses to the
slides. This might be due to a lack of continuous engage-
ment from the participants with the projected scenes
throughout the whole slideshow, i.e., the participants’
minds wandering. Alternatively, participants may have
varying aYnities to nature which results in diVerent
responses towards the scenes viewed in this study.
Future studies are needed to explore the mechanisms and
in particular physiological changes that occur in response to
nature, taking into consideration individual diVerences and
aYnity to nature. This study provides an important basis to
start to derive explanations of changes that are seen in
cohort and epidemiological studies.
This study shows for the Wrst time that the simple act of
viewing natural scenes, without the additional factors found
in a real environment, may induce changes in autonomic
control via increases in vagal modulation. The increases in
vagal activity are evident without prior exercise or stress
inducing components.
Acknowledgments V.F. Gladwell is an ESRC research fellow (pro-
ject number RES-064-27-0019). D.K. Brown is supported by a BHF
studentship Grant FS/10/32/28204. The study was also supported by
Academy of Finland (project number 126873).
ConXict of interest None.
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... This effect of real-life nature seems to translate to sole representations of nature, like pictures or videos of rivers, forests, or even fireplaces (Dana Lynn, 2014). Watching nature pictures increased HRV in a resting state (Gladwell et al., 2012) and in a recovery phase after a stressor (Brown et al., 2013) but watching urban pictures did not. This hints at nature exposure leading not only to benefits in recovery phases but as well having buffering effects (Beute and De Kort, 2014). ...
... The study protocol was approved by the Ethics Committee of the University of Konstanz and followed the guidelines outlined in the Declaration of Helsinki. Sample size was determined using the tool G * Power (Faul et al., 2007) based on within-between interactions (two groups, male and female participants, and four time points) and medium effect size, power = 90%, alpha = 0.05 as well as feasibility considerations and previous studies on HRV reactivity (Gladwell et al., 2012). ...
... A total of N = 90 students (sex assigned at birth: 50% female, 50% male; age: mean = 22.63 ± 4.57, range 18-49) participated in the study. Sample size was determined using the tool G * Power (Faul et al., 2007) based on within-between interactions (three video conditions groups and four time points) and medium effect size, power = 90%, alpha = 0.05 as well as feasibility considerations and previous studies on HRV reactivity (e.g., Gladwell et al., 2012). ...
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Growing evidence suggests that natural environments – whether in outdoor or indoor settings – foster psychological health and physiological relaxation, indicated by increased wellbeing, reduced stress levels, and increased parasympathetic activity. Greater insight into differential psychological aspects modulating psychophysiological responses to nature-based relaxation videos could help understand modes of action and develop personalized relaxation interventions. We investigated heart rate variability (HRV) as an indicator of autonomic regulation, specifically parasympathetic activity, in response to a 10-min video intervention in two consecutive studies as well as heart rate (HR). We hypothesized that a nature-based relaxation video elicits HRV increase and HR decrease, with response magnitude being affected by aspects of early life adversity (conceptualized as low parental care and high overprotection/constraint) and trait mindfulness. In Study 1, N = 60 participants (52% female, agemean = 23.92 ± 3.13 years, agerange = 18–34 years) watched a relaxation video intervention depicting different natural scenery. We analyzed changes in HR and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) as a standard HRV measure, both based on 3-min segments from the experimental session, in multiple growth curve models. We found a decrease in HR and increase of RSA during the video intervention. Higher paternal care and lower trait mindfulness observing skills (assessed via questionnaires) were associated with higher RSA values before but not during video exposure. In Study 2, N = 90 participants (50% female, agemean = 22.63 ± 4.57 years, agerange = 18–49 years) were assigned to three video conditions: natural scenery from Study 1, meditation video, or short clip from “The Lord of the Rings.” Again, HR decreased, and RSA increased during video segments, yet without expected group differences across different video types. We found higher parental care and lower parental overprotection to predict higher RSA at different times during the experiment. Interestingly, lower paternal overprotection predicted overall higher RSA. These results suggest a generic relaxation effect of video interventions on autonomic regulation that we discuss in light of different theories mapping restorative effects of natural environments. Further, psychological characteristics like aspects of early life adversity and trait mindfulness could contribute to individual differences in autonomic regulation. This study contributes to a better understanding of autonomic and psychological responses to relaxation videos.
... Previous studies have shown an increase in parasympathetic activity indicators (e.g., heart-rate variability parameters), and/or a decrease in sympathetic-parasympathetic balance indicators (e.g., heartrate variability parameters, pulse rate, blood pressure, salivary cortisol and psychological variables), when there was an exposure to green or green-blue environments. [28][29][30] This is due to a self-reinforcing positive multidisciplinary stimulation, including the following. (a) Sights and sounds of nature have important physiological impacts on human health. ...
... (a) Sights and sounds of nature have important physiological impacts on human health. Indeed, looking out of a window and viewing images of nature reduce sympathetic nervous activity, increase parasympathetic activity, 30,31 and restore attention, 32 while sounds of nature (i.e., flowing water and tweeting birds) increase parasympathetic activation. 33 Bird sounds have been found to increase recovery of skin conductance level, a measure of stress, while people who visited a local river cited the sound of water as a reason to visit it, for its relaxing effects. ...
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Background: Distress and adrenal balance of breast cancer survivors (BCS) are key elements of their psychophysical health, and increasing evidence has shown that both physical exercise and the natural environment are effective for their modulation. The aim of the study was to evaluate the effects of the environment and type of light intensity workouts, on distress, salivary cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) in BCS. Methods: Twenty-four BCS participated in six different workouts, each with the same duration and intensity. Three of them were conducted in natural environments – walking (Wnature), canoeing with assistance (Cnature) and a mix of myofascial and yoga exercises (MYnature). The others were conducted in an urban environment, namely walking (Wurban), or an indoor environment, namely mobilisation and light upper body exercises (MCgym) and a mix of myofascial and yoga exercises (MYgym). Before and after each workout, the Distress Thermometer was completed and saliva was collected. Results: Workouts practised in natural environments elicited a higher reduction in cortisol and the cortisol to DHEA-S ratio and a greater DHEA-S increase compared with workouts practised in urban and indoor environments. Overall, Cnature and MYnature were the best activities; among those practised in urban and indoor environments, MYgym elicited the best results. Distress was not acutely reduced after Wurban and MCgym. Conclusion: Natural environments seem to provide the best management of distress, cortisol, DHEA-S and their balance when working out at light intensities. The simultaneous presence of forests and rivers seems to be the key element of the observed results.
... The cognitive test performance results showed no significant differences in accuracy or response times, response time, or related measures resulting from the architectural design features studied (window placement and classroom width). It is notable that this outcome is not commensurate with previous work that has found, for example, views of nature to be associated with improved working memory and decreased mental fatigue [58,93,94]. One possible explanation for these contradictory results may be the length of exposure [65]. ...
This study investigated the neural dynamics associated with short-term exposure to different virtual classroom designs with different window placement and room dimension. Participants engaged in five brief cognitive tasks in each design condition including the Stroop Test, the Digit Span Test, the Benton Test, a Visual Memory Test, and an Arithmetic Test. Performance on the cognitive tests and Electroencephalogram (EEG) data were analyzed by contrasting various classroom design conditions. The cognitive-test-performance results showed no significant differences related to the architectural design features studied. We computed frequency band-power and connectivity EEG features to identify neural patterns associated to environmental conditions. A leave-one-out machine-learning classification scheme was implemented to assess the robustness of the EEG features, with the classification accuracy evaluation of the trained model repeatedly performed against an unseen participant’s data. The classification results located consistent differences in the EEG features across participants in the different classroom design conditions, with a predictive power (test-set accuracy: 51.5%-61.3%) that was significantly higher compared to a baseline classification learning outcome using scrambled data. These findings were most robust during the Visual Memory Test, and were not found during the Stroop Test and the Arithmetic Test. The most discriminative EEG features were observed in bilateral occipital, parietal, and frontal regions in the theta (4-8 Hz) and alpha (8-12 Hz) frequency bands. Connectivity analysis reinforced these findings by showing that there were changes in the transfer of information from centro-parietal to frontal electrodes in the different classroom conditions. While the implications of these findings for student learning are yet to be determined, this study provides rigorous evidence that brain activity features during cognitive tasks are affected by the design elements of window placement and room dimensions. The ongoing development of this EEG-based approach has the potential to strengthen evidence-based design through the use of solid neurophysiological evidence.
... Consistent with this finding, the aspect of conducting autonomic nervous-system research in an urban setting without laboratory control over stochastically dynamic events is daunting (cf. Gatersleben & Andrews, 2013;Gladwell et al., 2012;Hartig, Evans, Jamner, Davis, & Gärling, 2003;Lee et al., 2014;Ojala et al., 2019), but provides perhaps unique insights into the verisimilitude of our experimental findings. ...
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Over the course of human evolution, the successful detection of drinking water in arid environments mitigated the physiological stress of dehydration and acted as a strong source of natural selection for recognizing the optical cues for water and perhaps physiological indices of relief. The current research consisted of two studies investigating whether viewing water in outdoor settings affected autonomic tone and subjective ratings of relaxation. The first study examined blood pressure and heart rate of 32 participants who focused their attention on water in a swimming pool, a tree in a parking lot, and a small sign over a busy street. The results of this study showed that viewing water for 1 min 40 sec. reduced blood pressure reliably compared with viewing the tree and sign. Heart rate was also lower reliably while viewing water than the sign. The second study extended this research to a university arboretum, recording blood pressure, heart rate, and subjective ratings of relaxation of 73 participants successively at six sites along a 1.62 km path next to a creek, two small lakes, and the adjacent ground with open grassy areas and trees. At each site, participants alternated randomly in viewing the water or the ground first. Averaged for the six sites, analyses showed that the systolic/diastolic ratio for blood pressure and heart rate were reliably lower when viewing the water compared with the adjacent ground, an effect associated with the subjective rating of relaxation. Together, these findings indicate that viewing water can affect autonomic tone in a way that might account for the subjective rating of relaxation.
... Research on health-related physical environment focuses on the thermal environment and air quality. However, the healthrelated physical environment tightly relates with acoustic, wind, thermal, and landscape (28,29). Meanwhile, few researchers have paid attention to the subjective perception of the health-related physical environment, especially visual quality (30). ...
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Environmental deterioration in urbanizing areas increases the risks of sudden death as well as chronic, infectious, and psychological diseases. Quantifying health-related physical environment can assess the health risk of urban residents. This study uses an integrated evaluation method to simulate the health-related physical environment in the four dimensions of acoustic, wind, thermal, and landscape. According to the case study of one university campus in an urbanizing area in China, results show that (1) areas with unqualified equivalent A sound levels are generally the sports area, green square 1 and laboratory areas, and residents who stay in these areas for a long time suffer the risks of hearing loss and mental stress. (2) The windless area ratio of teaching area 1 and dormitory area 4 is larger than 20%, and respiratory health risks increase because these areas relate to relatively wind discomfort. (3) The high-temperature zone ratio of sports area and green square 2 is larger than 50%, and heatstroke risks increase since these areas relate with low thermal comfort. (4) The overall landscape perception level of dormitories and dining areas is lower than that of the teaching area, and it can cause anxiety and irritability. (5) The sports area has the lowest average overall score of the health-related physical environment among all functional areas, followed by laboratory areas. These findings indicate that the proposed model and method can be valuable tools for the pre-evaluation and optimization of urban planning. It can reduce the health risks of residents in urbanizing areas and can benefit residents' health and urban sustainable development.
... Another related theoretical perspective, attention restoration theory, articulates the psychological benefits of the natural environment regarding recovery of the capacity to focus attention (19)(20)(21). Laboratory and field studies support predictions from these theories that visual exposure to natural environments supports stress reduction by fostering pleasant emotional states while blocking negative emotional and cognitive states, and by increasing parasympathetic activity (22,23), as well as that natural environments can aid in the recovery of directed attention (23)(24)(25). ...
Background The determinants of health behaviours and health outcomes are multifaceted and the surrounding environment is increasingly considered as an important influence. This pre-registered study investigated the association between the geospatial environment people live within and their health behaviours as well as mental and physical health outcomes. Method We used the newly developed Healthy Location Index (HLI) to identify health-promoting and health-constraining environmental features that people live around. We then used Time 10 (2018) data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Survey (NZAVS; N = 47,951), a national probability sample of New Zealand adults, to gauge mental health outcomes including depression, anxiety and psychological distress, physical health outcomes including BMI and type II diabetes, and health behaviours such as tobacco smoking and vaping. Linear and logistic multilevel mixed effect regression models with random intercepts of individuals nested within geographical areas (meshblocks) were employed. Results The presence of health-constraining environmental features were adversely associated with self-reported mental health outcomes of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress, physical health outcomes of BMI and type II diabetes, and negative health behaviours of tobacco smoking and vaping. By contrast, health-promoting environmental features were uniquely associated with physical health outcomes of BMI and type II diabetes. Conclusion The current study advances research on environmental determinants of health behaviours by demonstrating that close proximity to health-constraining environmental features is related to a number of self-reported physical and mental health outcomes or behaviours. We provide some evidence to support the notion that preventive population-health interventions should be sought.
... SRT in turn proposes that natural environments influence affective states and therefore facilitate recovering from stressors (Ulrich et al. 1991). For both theories, there is evidence, both in real-life settings as well as in virtual nature settings (through VR, videos, or pictures; e.g. Brown et al. 2013;Gladwell et al. 2012;Valtchanov and Ellard 2010; for meta-analyses on various aspects of restoration, see Menardo et al. 2019;Ohly et al. 2016;Stevenson et al. 2018). ...
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Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing refers to a therapeutic, immersive nature experience that aids to improve well-being. The goal of the current research was to compare the effects of a physical urban nature versus virtual nature experience on stress, affect, vitality, and restoration. Previous research suggested that an immersive nature experience—such as shinrin-yoku—can be beneficial for health, but direct comparisons between physical and virtual reality (VR) experiences are scarce. In the current study, fifty participants navigated self-paced through a forest scene that was either an urban physical forest or an immersive VR forest with similar characteristics as the physical one. Before and after the intervention, we measured positive and negative affect, subjective vitality, and perceived daily stress. After the intervention, we measured perceived restorative outcomes. Results revealed that both VR and physical nature experience resulted in expected effects on well-being indicators: Affect was more positive and less negative, subjective vitality increased slightly, and stress decreased slightly after both interventions. There were no significant differences between the two settings on any of the variables, but slightly stronger effect sizes over time within the physical condition. Overall, these findings suggest that immersive VR nature experiences can have restoration effects similar to physical nature experiences, suggesting intervention strategies when physical nature options are scarce.
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Nature can benefit human well-being and cognitive function. Merely watching images of nature compared to urban scenes, which differ in many lower-level processed properties, can have such effects. In two studies, we investigated the roles of lower- and higher-level processing on restorative effects evoked by nature and urban-related stimuli. In addition to nature and urban photographs, we used 1) versions that lack spatial information but retain certain image properties including those on regularity (i.e., phase-scrambled images), 2) line drawings that contain spatial information and thus allow for higher-level processing while lacking many diagnostic lower-level processed properties, and 3) words that lack any diagnostic image properties but allow higher cognitive processing and provide a mental image of the environment. We examined restoration after participants viewed either original, phase-scrambled, or line drawing versions of nature and urban images (Study 1), or nature- and urban-related words (Study 2). Although nature and urban scenes differed in several image properties, these did not evoke differences in perceived restoration when presented with phase-scrambled images. However, higher-level processing (i.e., recognizing the environment) led to stronger perceived restoration effects for nature compared to urban stimuli (original images, line drawings, and words). These findings contradict assumptions of nature-specific image properties explaining restorative effects and, therefore, have implications for current theories in the field.
This study takes eight community parks in Chengdu as the research object, collects and organizes images of their environment, and selects the most representative environmental sample data for quantitative analysis to explore the impact of different physical characteristics of community parks on the evaluation of psychological characteristics of restorative environments, and establish a subjective evaluation model. The result shows: (1) Each physical feature element could explain the psychological feature score, and the richness of landscape plants, landscape naturalness, green vision rate, and activity space abundance all have a positive impact on the evaluation of psychological characteristics of the restorative environment; (2) Each physical feature has different interpretations of the psychological feature score. The naturalness of the landscape explains the psychological feature score the most, followed by the green vision rate and the richness of landscape plants. On the contrary, the richness of the activity space has a negative impact. The research results could provide design method suggestions for restorative environmental construction of community parks, and also provide basic support for future restorative landscape research.
Humans search for, identify, and interact with objects efficiently, utilizing not only the visual characteristics of the object itself but also contextual information to generate optimal predictions about objects in scenes. Over the course of our lives, we have acquired knowledge regarding co-occurring local objects as well as the global scene contexts in which they are usually encountered, creating strong predictions regarding what objects are typically found where in our environment. A number of studies from the last decades have characterized how such knowledge may guide attention in scene viewing and modulate object perception, using diverse methodologies like psychophysics, eye tracking, and neurophysiology, with various degrees of realism ranging from on-screen experiments via virtual reality to real-world studies. Some recent work has focused on investigating what “ingredients” of scenes actually influence object search and perception. Scenes tend to be hierarchically organized with some objects—so-called “anchor objects”—holding stronger predictions than others. Apart from meaningful objects, global scene properties (e.g., spatial layout or texture) have been shown to predict object identity. In order to tease apart the influence of such ingredients, large-scale databases and machine learning techniques have become increasingly popular. Here, we review recent advances in the field that help to better capture human efficiency in real-world scene and object perception, particularly focusing on which contextual information we take advantage of most and when. Further, we explore how these findings could be useful in pushing computer vision further ahead and how computer vision could mutually further our understanding of human visual perception.
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Subjects viewed sixty color slides of either (1) nature with water, (2) nature dominated by vegetation, or (3) urban environments without water or vegetation. The information rates of the three slide samples were equivalent. Measurements were taken of the effects of the slide presentations on alpha amplitude, heart rate, and emotional states. Results revealed several significant differences as a function of environment, which together indicate that the two categories of nature views had more positive influences on psychophysiological states than the urban scenes. Alpha was significantly higher during the vegetation as opposed to urban slides; similarly, alpha was higher on the average when subjects viewed water rather than urban content. There was also a consistent pattern for nature, especially water, to have more positive influences on emotional states. A salient finding was that water, and to a lesser extent vegetation views, held attention and interest more effectively than the urban scenes. Implications of the findings for theory development in environmental aesthetics are discussed.
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Lifestyles are increasingly characterised by sedentary behaviour, obesity problems, stress, mental ill-health and disconnection from nature. However, contact with nature has been shown to improve psychological health by reducing stress, enhancing mood and replenishing mental fatigue. In addition to providing a range of environmental services, greenspaces provide opportunities and incentives for ‘green exercise’ such as walking, cycling or horse riding. Visitor numbers indicate that many people already benefit from spending time in greenspaces, but little is known about the immediate impact of an acute exposure on their health and wellbeing. This study focuses on evaluating changes in self-esteem and mood after walking in four different National Trust sites of natural and heritage value in the East of England. The standardised measures of both self-esteem and mood were administered immediately pre- and post-activity. Self-esteem scores for visitors leaving the sites were significantly higher than those just arriving and overall mood also significantly improved. Feelings of anger, depression, tension and confusion all significantly reduced and vigour increased. Thus, the environment plays an important role in facilitating physical activities and helping to address sedentary behaviours. Walking, in particular, can serve many purposes including exercise, recreation, travel, companionship, relaxation and restoration. However, walking in greenspaces may offer a more sustainable option, as the primary reward is enhanced emotional wellbeing through both exposure to nature and participation in exercise.
The paper reports on a study that looks at the impact of a corrections environment upon prisoners through a process of monitoring inmate attendance at sick call clinic. Contrasting cell block designs and characteristics are compared on the basis of significant differential demands for health care services emanating from specific areas. Known psychological and physiological responses to situations perceived to be threatening provide the theory that health behavior may be used as one indirect measure of environmentally induced stress. Findings suggest there are architectural design features of the prison environment that provide basis of perceived threats to inmate safety and survival. Loss of privacy on several dimensions appears to be a critical environmental characteristic.
Three experiments were designed to test the hypothesis that exposure to restorative environments facilitates recovery from mental fatigue. To this end, participants were first mentally fatigued by performing a sustained attention test; then they viewed photographs of restorative environments, nonrestorative environments or geometrical patterns; and finally they performed the sustained attention test again. Only participants exposed to the restorative environments improved their performance on the final attention test, and this improvement occurred whether they viewed the scenes in the standardized time condition or in the self-paced time condition. Results are in agreement with Kaplan's [(1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169–182] attention restoration theory, and support the idea that restorative environments help maintain and restore the capacity to direct attention.
The Task Force was established by the Board of the European Society of Cardiology and co-sponsored by the North American Society of Facing and Electrophysiology. It was organised jointly by the Working Groups on Arrhythmias arzd on Computers of Cardiology of the European Society of Cardiology. After exchanges of written views on the subject, the main meeting of a writing core of the Task Force took place on May 8-10. 1994, on Necker Island. Following external reviews, the tent of this report was approved by the Board of the European Society of Cardiology on August 19,1995, and by the Board of the North American Society of Facing and Electrophysiology on October 3, 1995.