A couple of recent research papers have considered the role of nature’s beauty in nature connectedness and the associated benefits of well-being and pro-social behaviour. The first looked at how a connection to nature is related to well-being. In two studies the authors found that the positive relationship between a connection with nature and satisfaction with life was only significant for those people attuned and engaged with nature’s beauty. Or in other words, people who experience positive emotion when seeing beauty in nature have higher well-being.
The second research article focused on another benefit of nature – pro-social, or helping behaviours such as empathy and generosity. Once again these positives were found to be linked to nature’s beauty. First, in those people disposed to perceive beauty in nature, and then people exposed to beautiful images of nature and finally people exposed to more beautiful plants in a room.
These results remind me of the thinking of Gregory Bateson (1904-1980), the social scientist, anthropologist and systems theorist involved in a wide range of interdisciplinary research. Gregory Bateson saw aesthetic experience as the route to greater connection to nature and the wider ecology. In Steps to an Ecology of Mind he wrote that we should not be working towards control, based on our imperfect understanding of the vast system of the world, but using our curiosity to work towards beauty.
Personally I find this interesting as I my research interest in this area came about through a re-connection with nature through painting and creative nature writing. So how do we get more people to engage with nature’s beauty? We can’t expect large sections of the population to sharpen their crayons or to become poets, but simple interventions such as noting the good things in nature can be powerful – and the good things people note are often nature’s beauty.
Zhang, J.W., Howell, R.T., Iyer, R., (2014). Engagement with Natural Beauty Moderates the Positive Relation between Connectedness with Nature and Psychological Well-Being, Journal of Environmental Psychology.
Zhang, J. W., Piff, P. K., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Keltner, D. (2014). An occasion for unselfing: Beautiful nature leads to prosociality. Journal of Environmental Psychology.