Zoological institutions often use immersive, naturalistic exhibits to create an inclusive atmosphere that is inviting for visitors while providing for the welfare of animals in their collections. In this study, we investigated physiological changes in salivary cortisol and blood pressure, as well as psychological changes among visitors before and after a walk through the River’s Edge, an immersive, naturalistic exhibit at the Saint Louis Zoo. Study participants had a significant reduction in salivary cortisol and blood pressure after walking through the exhibit. Psychological assessments of mood found that most visitors felt happier, more energized, and less tense after the visit. Additionally, participants who spent more time in River’s Edge, had visited River’s Edge prior to the study, and had seen more exhibits at the Zoo prior to entering River’s Edge experienced greater psychological and/or physiological benefits. We conclude that immersive, naturalistic exhibits in zoos can elicit positive changes in physiological and psychological measures of health and well-being and argue for a greater scientific focus on the role of zoos and other green spaces in human health.
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