Friday, April 21, 2023

'People find sunsets to be the most awe-inspiring weather,' study says; maybe we should spend more time with them

A spring sunset reflects off Stoney Creek near Pasadena, Maryland.
(Photo by Jonathan Newton, The Washington Post)
As spring ebbs and flows into summer, it might be time to go out and gaze at some sunsets. Sunrises can be big, bold and full of promise, but sunsets can be more momentous because the air has more things to refract light. "Whether you're commuting, relaxing on vacation or quickly glancing out the window, the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows streaming from the sun grab your attention, writes Kasha Patel of The Washington Post. So many of us think, 'Wow.' We become momentarily speechless." 

"Research has shown that spending time in nature under clear blue skies can boost your mental health, but the new research suggests perhaps looking at a sunset or sunrise can be an extra boost for your emotional state. . . . Now research tells us: Sunsets are among the most beautiful fleeting weather phenomenon in a day. . . . . People find sunrises and sunsets to be the most beautiful and awe-inspiring weather, according to a study published this year by a pair of British researchers," Patel reports. "People liked them more than storms, rainbows, clear blue skies or nightscapes — and some would even be willing to pay up to 100 British pounds to see landscapes at dawn or dusk."

"Awe has typically been a difficult emotion to evoke, said lead author Alex Smalley, but feelings of awe can improve mood, increase positive emotions and decrease stress," Patel writes. "Smalley's research has shown that people can 'experience these bumps in awe and aesthetic appraisal and beauty' when looking at a sunset or sunrise. Smalley, a doctoral candidate at the University of Exeter in England, told her, "We have, as Western populations, become very disconnected from the natural world. When you see something vast and overwhelming or something that produces this feeling of awe, your own problems can feel diminished, and so you don't worry so much about them."

At times our schedules do not allow us to be present, but physically seeing a sunset may not be required. Patel reports, "Smalley says his new study indicates that you might not need to see the sunset in real-time or even in person. Much of his current research uses digital stimuli of nature, such as a screen saver, to test a person's emotions. . . . He also works with an app called Portal, which uses immersive technology to transport people's imaginations to beautiful places around the world. In both cases, he said, people reported more positive emotions, moods and a strengthening of cognitive functions that are often experienced when people physically spend time in nature."

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