Paradoxical effects of exposure to nature in “haunted” places: Implications for stress reduction theory

Álex Escolà-Gascón, James Houran

Research output: Indexed journal article Articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Stress Reduction Theory (SRT) ostensibly explains why natural environments have positive effects on mental health. However, there is debate about the particular characteristics of natural environments that best foster psychological well-being. In this research, we analyze the effects of supposedly “haunted” natural environments on people's stress levels. The abandoned village of Marmellar was chosen because it is a protected natural area, has numerous associated supernatural legends, and the popular media claims it is actively “haunted.” This site was visited by a total of 208 participants, evenly balanced by self-reported believers in the paranormal vs. non-believers. Before and after the visits, the participants completed three questionnaires that measured their (a) stress levels, (b) suggestibility, and (c) neurasthenia (i.e., general fatigue or irritability). As predicted, the paranormal-believers showed significantly higher levels of stress, suggestibility, and neurasthenia than the non-believers. Paranormal-related beliefs and attributions related to the Marmellar environment specifically predicted 39% of the increase in stress levels. Paradoxical to SRT, our findings suggest that beliefs can override the role of biology in appraisal processes responsible for “sense-of-place.” The risks and benefits of paranormal attributions in the context of personality are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104183
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Attention restoration
  • Haunted places
  • Paranormal beliefs
  • Sense-of-place
  • Stress reduction theory


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