As part of my work to find ways to improve our connection to nature, I do research into understanding what individual differences make us connected. The results of three of these studies have just been published in the journal Ecopsychology.
As covered in earlier blog posts, the research into human-nature relationships offers a few perspectives on what a connection to nature is. It can be our relationship commitment, a belonging to a wider community. Or it’s about emotional affinity, seeing nature as a source of awe and beauty, rather than an object of observation. Finally, it can be seen in terms of an extended sense of self, an identity that includes nature – a cognitive belief about our place in the natural world.
The approach in the 3 studies is perhaps best viewed in terms of the latter concept, the self and connectedness to nature. I was interested in self-directed thinking, those reflective thoughts that can improve our self-knowledge. This is a genuine interest about one’s own values and attitudes, and can also involve reflection on the emotions that contribute to self – therefore it does also link into the broader range of perspectives on a connection to nature. In fact, it also fits well with my personal definition of nature connection – a realisation of our shared place in nature, which affects our being – how we experience the world here and now; our emotional response, beliefs and attitudes towards nature.
We also measured a second type of self-directed thought, rumination – anxious self-attention related to fear of failure and self-worth with the expectation being that a connection to nature would be related to self-reflection, but not rumination. Self-reflection by definition is a conscious, reflective activity. So to add to the story, we also measured pre-reflective attention, or mindful attention, which enhances current experience ‘in the moment’ – such trait mindfulness is already known to predict a connection to nature.
By getting lots of people to fill in the measures of self-reflection, rumination, trait mindfulness and connection to nature we were able to show that, as expected, self-reflection and mindful attention predicted greater nature connection, whereas rumination was associated with lower connection to nature.
Then, we did it all again, but added a measure of personality to check that self-reflection was associated to nature connection independently of a broader range of individual differences. Interestingly, self-refection emerged as a greater predictor of connection to nature than mindfulness. There’s a fuller story of the role of personality in the full paper.
Finally, given my interest in finding ways to improve our connection to nature, the third study looked at the relationship between self-reflection, mindful attention and increases in nature connection. Here, self-reflection was the only predictor. The results are discussed within a pre-reflection and intentional self-attention model (PRISM) where connection to nature is associated with mindful attention, but more directly, self-reflection. So, by looking inward we can realise a closer connection to nature. From an applied perspective we should find ways to promote self-reflection, especially in nature – as being in nature is known to promote reflection. So places to pause in nature, and ways to prompt reflection are worth exploring.