This is a non-video game study, but its implications could be significant to video games or media in general. For an unknown reason, this article showed up in my database alert, normally I would ignore it if it wasn’t for Andrew Przybylski as co-author. See university press release.
Four studies examined the effects of nature on valuing intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations. Intrinsic aspirations reflected prosocial and other-focused value orientations, and extrinsic aspirations predicted self-focused value orientations. Participants immersed in natural environments reported higher valuing of intrinsic aspirations and lower valuing of extrinsic aspirations, whereas those immersed in non-natural environments reported increased valuing of extrinsic aspirations and no change of intrinsic aspirations. Three studies explored experiences of nature relatedness and autonomy as underlying mechanisms of these effects, showing that nature immersion elicited these processes whereas non-nature immersion thwarted them and that they in turn predicted higher intrinsic and lower extrinsic aspirations. Studies 3 and 4 also extended the paradigm by testing these effects on generous decision making indicative of valuing intrinsic versus extrinsic aspirations.
I guess the word immersion was the key factor in the database alert. And I’ll just fill in the missing details from the abstract.
Participants in the first two studies were shown four slides of either a nature scene (i.e. lake) or a man-made scene (i.e. city plaza with no trees). They were asked to imagine themselves being in these settings. Their aspirations (intrinsic and extrinsic) were measured before and after viewing the slides, they used a questionnaire format. What they found were participants who are highly immersed in the nature setting scored higher in intrinsic aspirations, lower in extrinsic aspirations with autonomy and relatedness with nature as mediating factors. As for the man-made setting, the reverse is true, but immersion had no effect at all.
The third and fourth study involved a decision making in generosity. The third study is similar to the earlier ones. After watching the slides, they were asked to distribute a prize money of 5$, either they keep their prize or give it away to another person who is not visible in which the second person would receive an additional 5$ and might either give the participant’s prize back or keep it all. What they found that were those in the nature condition and were highly immersed were more generous than those in the man-made condition who were greedier. The same is true for the fourth where participants are randomly assigned to a room either filled with plants or not.
I have two thoughts regarding this study.
Video game graphics has reached an impressive level in which a natural scenery can be rendered in real time. Given that an artificial environment is limited by one’s imagination, we can expect exceedingly beautiful scenery. Furthermore, the ability to interact with nature would increase a person’s immersive experience. If there were other players within such environment, from this study’s results, we could expect that players would be generous people with high intrinsic aspirations. Role-Playing Games (and by extension MMORPGs) are known to feature nature scenes to such an extent that it has become a trope. We can examine the contrast with Coruscant. Of course, we need some empirical data to support my assertion, maybe I can implement Yathzee’s idea of turning Crysis into park safari game.
My second thought is about nature’s relation with literature, especially its symbolism I could even say that nature is often associated with goodness and heroes. If you recall any heroes from any medium, many of them are introduced or has lived in natural environments, either in a forest (Link from the Legend of Zelda), or a rural village (Edward Elric and Frodo). The trope ‘The Hero’ is often written as person with high intrinsic values, selflessness, ‘superior morals’, good person, etc. Contrast this with the villain, whose motivation is often extrinsic (i.e. power) and who is often found deep in man-made settings. Link and Ganon are prime examples of the contrast and symbolism, Link is associated with the Triforce of courage and dressed in nature colours, while Ganon is associated with the Triforce of Power and dressed in opposite shades. I surmise that this psychological phenomenon has shaped our literature in this way and in turn, further reinforces the effects on our aspirations. Of course, it could go the other way around that society values nature as a symbol of intrinsic aspirations that nature would simply prime these aspirations.
I emailed the first author and it turns out that Andrew Przybylski had asked the same question, I haven’t heard from him yet.
Update (10/11/09): got replies from Andrew Przybylski and they’ve already did some experiments.
Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A. K., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Can nature make us more caring? Effects of immersion in nature on intrinsic aspirations and generosity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1315-1329.