Nature Gives Us Strength

A blog update has been overdue, I’ve been busy writing papers and preparing for Nature Connections 2015, amongst other things – so a few research papers to catch-up on.

Firstly, a meta-analysis by McMahan and Estes on the effect of contact with nature on positive emotions. A meta-analysis is important as it brings together results from multiple studies, 32 in this case, with 2356 people. Across all these studies exposure to nature was associated with increases in positive emotion, or affect. This was combined with a smaller decrease in negative emotion.

The studies combined within this analysis used real and laboratory based exposure to nature, which itself was either wild or managed. Importantly, exposure to real nature had a larger effect than laboratory simulations – a technological, virtual reality solution to nature’s decline is not the way I’d want to go! Interestingly, the type of nature did not matter – managed, urban natural spaces were as good as wilderness areas. Finally, the impact of nature was greater as the samples of people became older.


Finding nature in an urban park.

Another couple of recent studies provide insight into more specific benefits of exposure, or connection, to nature. Firstly, Martyn and Brymer (Eric is presenting at NC2015) looked at anxiety. However, rather than exposure, they looked at connection to nature and found it was related to lower overall levels of state and trait cognitive anxiety (e.g. current and long-term worrying).

They also considered qualitative results, participants reflections on what nature meant to them, and found seven themes which might indicate how nature connection leads to lower anxiety: inducing relaxation, escape and refuge, space and air, sense of connection, enjoyment, a healthy perspective and sensory engagement (including beauty). I’ve considered the importance of nature’s beauty before and these themes mirror those found in my own work – 1000 good things in nature published in Environmental Values.

Finally, Chow and Lau looked at a different benefit and returned to nature exposure. In three studies, they found that people exposed to nature photos restored their ‘inner-strength’ after depletion to have greater persistence in logic and reasoning tasks, including when compared to urban scenes – exposure and connection to everyday nature brings positive emotions, combats worry and is restorative!

McMahan, E. A., & Estes, D. (2015). The effect of contact with natural environments on positive and negative affect: A meta-analysis. The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Martyn, P., & Brymer, E. (2014). The relationship between nature relatedness and anxiety. Journal of Health Psychology.

Chow, J. T., & Lau, S. (2015). Nature Gives Us Strength: Exposure to Nature Counteracts Ego-depletion. The Journal of Social Psychology155(1), 70-85.


About Miles

Professor of Human Factors & Nature Connectedness - improving connection to (the rest of) nature to unite human & nature’s wellbeing.
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