Main content

These 5 types of photograph are soothing, according to scientific research

4 September 2017

Stella Chan first became aware of compassion-focused therapy when she was training to become a clinical psychologist.

“This therapy is about helping people to develop a new sense of connection with themselves in a more compassionate way.”

“One of the exercises we ask people to do is to close their eyes and create some mental imagery.”

But Dr Chan found that some people found this task difficult or even impossible.

“So we started having this idea – what if we give people actual photographs to look at.”

The thought of combining this with photos provided by the public came about after she read an article about astronomers using citizen scientists to gather data.

“[I thought] we can ask the public to submit the photographs so that we can collate them and validate them and examine them scientifically.”

Now Dr Chan is the lead researcher of a project at the University of Edinburgh which is gathering together a bank of soothing photographs.

Her hope is that these can be used to help improve mental health and wellbeing.

The team want to hear more about what people think about their images – you can take part in one of their evaluation studies.

So far her team has found that people tend to find images of the natural world – animals, water features, sky, trees & flowers and landscapes – are the most soothing.

But pictures of people seem to have a less calming effect.

Dr Chan thinks there are two reasons for this.

“Maybe it's a matter of privacy. People don't want to submit their personal images.”

“However I have a feeling there is something a bit more to it.”

“When it comes to human faces, they normally connect to some kind of relationship.”

“When relationships go well this is one of the best protective factors against mental health problems.”

“But when relationships go wrong that is often a cause of distress and psychological difficulties.”

The full programme on BBC Radio Scotland

Latest features from BBC Scotland