Why does scenery make people emotional

Why do most people get an emotional reaction when viewing aesthetically pleasing scenery, sometimes so much that many people consider their subjective belief in the beauty of nature as proof of the existence of God?

That’s what aesthetically pleasing means. The answer to any question of the form “why does X make people emotional” is “because it does”.

I’m not sure why you’re singling out scenery. Why beauty in general make us emotional is quite mysterious to me. Even more so IMO is our very strong emotional reaction to music.

There’s a rare phenomenon associated with beautiful or powerful paintings too where people looking at them actually faint from the experience.

I’m not sure why you’re singling out scenery. Why beauty in general make us emotional is quite mysterious to me. Even more so IMO is our very strong emotional reaction to music.

Apparently, philosophers and neuropsychologists and the like have taken recent note of this very question: Neuroesthetics is a relatively new (coined in 2002) discipline of aesthetics to use neuroscience to figure out what in our brain makes us react to beauty and ugliness.

So at this point, I don’t know if there’s much solid science to answer the “why” you ask.

Though absent long,
These forms of beauty have not been to me,
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,
As may have had no trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life;
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lighten’d:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things."

  • William Wordsworth

It seems that some stimuli tap into other parts of the brain, perhaps simply by proximity. For example: smell and memory. I wasn’t sure of this until I smelled some lemon-scented shaving soap and immediately got strong memories of bootcamp four years earlier when we had used lemon-scented anti-mosquito spray.

Also, as has been pointed out upthread, it is possible that we define “scenery” precisely as landscape image which make people emotional, in which case, asking why scenery makes people emotional is asking “Why does landscape which makes people emotional make people emotional?” I don’t know why some landscapes have an emotional impact and I’ll be going through Gnoitall’s link (thanks, Gno).

I was driving through town the other day and saw a man on the pavement strike a match. I had a strong smell of sulphur, although it was totally impossible for me to actually smell his match.

It’s far from clear that everyone considers scenery to be beautiful. It appears that the earliest settlers of (what is now) the U.S. found the original landscape to be frightening, a spiritual void. It was only later (to be precise, after the time of the British Romantic writers) that they began to think of wilderness as something beautiful. Here’s an article about this:


So the thesis of the OP that scenery is emotionally pleasing may be wrong. You’re assuming that such feelings that most people presently have are inborn. They may not be. They may be acquired culturally.

Thomas Jefferson once said that the view from a specific rock at Harper’s Ferry (was Virginia, now part of West Virginia) was so spectacular that if you spent the money to take a trip to the US and only got to see that one sight in Harper’s Ferry your entire trip, it would be worth it. I got to see the sight from just beside the rock (the park service told me not to climb up), and it was sort of meh.

But I have seen many other sights that were far more moving and truly an experience.

Music is created by people and therefore infused with emotional expression. It can elicit an emotional reaction because it carries a payload of emotion–that’s what art is. Scenery, on the other hand, is just something that exists and was not created for the express purpose of communicating emotion (IMHO). I find Samuel Barber’s Adaggio for Strings very moving, for example. I certainly enjoy watching various natural phenomena but I wouldn’t say I have an emotional reaction to them.


I have wondered before if there was something in me that drew me to the shore. I’m 1/4 Scottish by ancestry, and descended from a lassie who taught school on a small (US) island literally 6 blocks from the beach. Talk about an awesome evening after work. I took a trip to heavily-Scottish Maritime Canada a few years ago and had what I pretty much consider an epiphany on Prince Edward Island. I wonder if there is something in being Scottish, ether genetically or through cultural memes passed down, that made this so and made that part of the world so popular among Scots.

It’s interesting to consider not only the actual appearance of a scene, but it’s cultural meaning. I had a chance to go out to the prairies where some of my ancestors homesteaded Laura Ingalls-style, and I got to stand on land that was once part of the family farm. It’s a suburban neighborhood now, and I noticed that one of the streets had my last name on it. Given my other research into the area, it’s a near certainty that that street is named after my own family. That makes an apparently mundane suburban neighborhood into something special.

Moderator Action

I don’t know that we understand the human mind well enough at this point to have a factual answer to this question. Since there’s bound to be a fair amount of speculation and opinion involved, let’s move this over to IMHO. Any factual answers are still allowed, of course.

Moving thread from General Questions to In My Humble Opinion.