Psychophysiological effects of walking in forests and urban built environments with disparate road traffic noise exposure: study protocol of a randomized controlled trial

Julia Schaupp*, Karin Hediger, Jean Marc Wunderli, Beat Schäffer, Silvia Tobias, Natalia Kolecka, Nicole Bauer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Stress is a widespread phenomenon and reality of everyday life, entailing negative consequences for physical and psychological wellbeing. Previous studies have indicated that exposure to greenspaces and nature-based interventions are promising approaches to reducing stress and promoting restoration. However, an increasing percentage of the population lives in urban regions with limited opportunities to spend time in greenspaces. In addition, urban settings typically feature increased levels of noise, which represents a major environmental stressor. Although various studies have compared the effects of exposure to greenspaces versus urban built environments, evidence of the effects of noise in this context is very limited. Psychophysiological benefits of exposure to greenspaces compared to urban built environments reported in earlier studies might be less (or at least not only) due to features of the greenspaces than to additional stressors, such as road traffic noise in the urban built environment. Hence, differences in the effects attributed to greenness in previous studies may also be due to potentially detrimental noise effects in comparison settings. This paper reports the study protocol for a randomized, controlled intervention study comparing the effects of walking in forest versus urban built environments, taking road traffic noise exposure during walks in the respective settings into account. Methods: The protocol envisages a field study employing a pretest–posttest design to compare the effects of 30-min walks in urban built environments and forests with different road traffic noise levels. Assessments will consist of self-reported measures, physiological data (salivary cortisol and skin conductance), an attention test, and noise, as well as greenness measurements. The outcomes will be restoration, stress, positive and negative affect, attention, rumination, and nature connectedness. Discussion: The results will inform about the restorative effect of walking in general, of exposure to different types of environments, and to different noise levels in these sites. The study will provide insights into the benefits of walking and nature-based interventions, taking into account the potential detrimental effects of noise exposure. It will thus facilitate a better understanding of low-threshold interventions to prevent stress and foster wellbeing. Trial registration: ISRCTN48943261; Registered 23.11.2023.

Original languageEnglish
Article number250
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalBMC Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Attention
  • Field experiment
  • Forest
  • Greenspace
  • Restoration
  • Road traffic noise
  • Stress
  • Urban built environment
  • Walking
  • Wellbeing


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