A new study out of Japan found nature therapy lowers the stress levels of people struggling with problem gambling. The research by Yoshifumi Miyazaki, out of Tokyo’s Chiba University, confirmed “nature sounds” have a similarly calming effect on people experiencing problem gambling as those who aren’t.
While further investigation is needed, the study’s preliminary findings suggest incorporating nature into problem gambling treatment may aid success.
The research came about in response to the Japanese government’s plans to allow integrated resort casinos. The country formally approved the first such project last month: an $8.1 billion collaboration between MGM Resorts International and Orix Corp. It’s expected to open in Osaka in 2029.
Study Explored Effect of Nature Sounds on Gambling Disorder
Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” is a Japanese wellness practice. It has recently become popular in the West as an accessible way to alleviate stress.
Miyazaki is a professor emeritus at the Centre for Environment, Health, and Field Sciences at Chiba University. He and his team sought to explore nature therapy as a method of stress reduction in those suffering from gambling disorder (GD).
Together, his team compared the psychological and physiological effects of different types of sounds on patients with GD. The study classified these as “nature” or “city” sounds.
The study participants were 22 Japanese men between the ages of 22 and 60 who had been diagnosed with gambling disorder.
Participants were then randomly separated into two groups. One listened to the digital sounds of nature while the other heard the bustle of a city street.
Researchers measured participants’ physiological and psychological responses with sensors and questionnaires.
In March, they released the final report, Relaxation Effect of Nature Sound Exposure on Gambling Disorder Patients: A Crossover Study. The research will also appear in an upcoming Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine issue.
Nature Makes Problem Gamblers Feel More Relaxed and Positive
Results strongly indicated exposure to nature-based stimuli results in physical relaxation, among other positives, for people experiencing problem gambling.
According to a release announcing the research:
There was a significant decrease in oxy-Hb concentration in the bilateral prefrontal cortex of participants while listening to nature sounds. Put simply; it made them feel more relaxed and positive.
Professor Miyazaki also noted the impact of the pandemic, “people are spending more time at home and are under stress.”
These circumstances, he said, point to a need for familiar relaxation techniques:
The results of this experiment suggest that the auditory stimulation of nature-derived sounds is also beneficial for patients with GD.
Nature therapy may be useful for stress reduction in various patient groups and the general population, especially as our society becomes more artificialized and stress levels increase. As scientific evidence continues to accumulate, various nature-derived stimuli, including the auditory stimulus used in this study, may contribute to reducing stress in people.
Further research is needed to explore long-term implications for individuals with gambling problems.
Stress significantly contributes to the development of gambling disorder and relapse during recovery. And gambling disorder can also have extreme consequences for those experiencing it.
However, studies have shown replacing gambling behavior with healthier activities can reduce the likelihood of a relapse.
Nature-derived audio could be an additional stress-relieving tool for people with gambling addiction.
Study Provides Foundation for Further Research of Nature-Based Gambling Treatment
To some, the idea that hearing or spending time in nature might benefit addiction treatment — gambling or otherwise, might seem somewhat obvious. In some ways, it probably is.
But the reality is that such research into problem gambling is relatively new.
Pathological gambling (PG) was only added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) third edition in 1980, in a catchall category for miscellaneous impulse-control disorders. In 2013, the release of the DSM-5 changed the name to gambling disorder.
In addition to the new name, the manual placed GD in a new category: behavioral addictions. Significantly, this shift acknowledged similarities in origin, presentation, and treatment with substance-related disorders like alcohol or drug addiction.
Notably, for addictive behaviors — including gambling — stress-reducing tools are recommended to support recovery.
During addiction treatment, exercise and mindfulness techniques like meditation and breath work are often combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). So, it’s not much of a stretch to suppose time outside, even just nature sounds, might benefit those experiencing gambling harm.
With this new research, Miyazaki’s team has laid the foundation for future studies exploring the treatment potential of nature therapy.