Impact of landscape on time horizon of your thinking

To reach that conclusion Dr van Vugt and his team randomly assigned 47 participants either to look at three city photographs, or three country photographs, for two minutes each. After that participants were asked to pick between €100 ($135) now or a larger sum, which grew in €10 increments up to €170, in 90 days’ time. Those beholding natural landscapes made the switch to deferred gratification at a sum, known as the indifference point, that was 10% below those who scanned cityscapes. The same was true when another 43 volunteers were asked either to walk in an actual forest outside Amsterdam or in the city's commercial area of Zuidas.


It turns out our environment, the landscape we're in, may affect the time horizon of our decision-making. It's still not clear why.

What, then, is it about brooks and meadows that propels thoughts of the beyond? Dr van Vugt speculates that competition—for jobs, attractive partners and large bank accounts—is concentrated within cities, rendering them unpredictable. Unpredictability may in turn shunt people onto the fast lane. He admits, however, that the study does not determine whether cities spur impulsive behaviour, or whether the countryside inspires patience. Or, indeed, whether the effect holds for different types of non-urban locale. Sublime deserts or the Arctic tundra may be (as Coleridge himself would be the first to aver). But their inhospitability makes them possibly more unpredictable for their human inhabitants even than bustling Amsterdam.


Whatever the reason, for long-term planning, it may indeed pay to get away from it all and escape into nature.