Bird-Watching Linked to Improved Mental Health in College Students


In a recent study conducted by North Carolina State University and published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers have uncovered a promising link between bird-watching and enhanced mental well-being among college students.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted increased struggles with mental health among adolescents and college-aged individuals, M. Nils Peterson, a professor of forestry and environmental resources at NC State University and corresponding author of the study, expressed concern over these groups’ limited access to nature and its associated benefits.

Impact of Bird-Watching

The study, aimed at exploring the impact of nature activities on mental health, specifically focused on bird-watching as a potential avenue for improvement. Participants were divided into three groups: a control group, a group assigned five nature walks, and a group tasked with five 30-minute bird-watching sessions.

Using the World Health Organization’s Five Well-Being Index, researchers assessed the mental state of each participant before and after the activities. While all three groups experienced an increase in well-being scores, the bird-watching group demonstrated the most significant improvement, starting from the lowest and ending at the highest level of well-being.

Additionally, researchers employed the STOP-D questionnaire to measure distress levels among participants. Both the nature-walking and bird-watching groups exhibited better distress scores compared to the control group. Notably, this study departed from previous research by comparing participants engaged in nature activities to those in a neutral control group, rather than exposing them to potentially distressing stimuli like traffic noise.

Peterson highlighted the significance of this study’s neutral comparison, emphasizing that bird-watching provides a positive alternative for mental well-being enhancement. Moreover, he noted the global accessibility of bird-watching and its prevalence on college campuses, even in urban settings.

While the exact mechanisms behind the mental health benefits of bird-watching remain to be fully understood, this research underscores its potential as a simple yet effective means of promoting well-being among college students. Further studies are warranted to delve deeper into the therapeutic effects of engaging with nature, particularly through activities like bird-watching.

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