Can a picture calm you down? Put these soothing shots to the test

Psychologists collect a series of stress-busting shots to test if it improves mental health.

Project soothe: Does this picture make you feel calm?
Project soothe: Does this picture make you feel calm?

From the first signs of spring blossoming to a crystal clear reflection on water, snippets of beauty can be easily captured at the touch of a button.

Every day thousands of images are uploaded and shared across social media. But, as you scroll by, could they have an impact on your mental health?

This is the questions researchers at the University of Edinburgh have been trying to uncover by creating a gallery of soothing shots they hope will improve our well-being.

Natural landscapes: These pictures proved popular among entrants.

Called Project Soothe, more than 300 photographs have been sent to team of academic clinical psychologists in the last year in response to a call out for images that people find comforting.


Researchers are now looking for people to take part in rating the photos to find out whether certain scenes create a universal sense of calm.

Future goal: Researchers want to create a bank of soothing shots.

“A soothing image can help people on two levels – a person may have an image which is linked to a memory, so the memory associated with the images helps them feel comforted,” says Dr Stella Chan, who launched the project a year ago alongside Professor Matthias Schwannauer to investigate the interaction between images and how they make people feel.

“But on another level there may be some universal elements in images which people are more likely to find reassuring.”

Paws for thought: Photos of animals also proved a popular choice.

Common themes around natural landscapes and animals have proved to be the most popular submissions to date, with more photos sought to continue building the stress-busting photo album.


It is hoped to use the findings in future therapies, adding that it is known that people have the ability to soothe themselves in times of distress but that some are less able to imagine a soothing scene – which is where a bank of images could help.

Birthday bash: Researchers hope first year will pave the way for improved therapies.

“The ultimate goal is to create a bank of images,” Dr Stella Chan says.

“Images elicit very strong emotions – that’s why in research we often use images to study emotions.

“Every day we go out and our eyes constantly see things and our mind is constantly processing these images.

“Feeling soothed is indeed a very subjective experience, it’s not something we can simply sit in a laboratory and study and that’s why we need you to help us understand what soothing means on a day to day basis.”

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