A guest blog by Dr Dean Fido & Dr Alice Rees.
The affinity that humans share with nature is well-documented, as are the benefits of living a life interwoven and connected with nature. Such benefits include facets that are key to living a worthwhile live and the protection against poor mental wellbeing. Our research group has also found nature connectedness plays a part in pro-social and empathic behaviour (Fido & Richardson, 2019; Passmore & Holder, 2017). In the West, this presents a strong disparity with the Hobbesian viewpoint that selfish and aggressive behavioural trends are somewhat normaland adaptivein the modern world. To date, however, this remains a highly under-researched avenue of investigation.
In psychology, dark personalitiesare commonly characterised by conceptually distinct yet overlapping personality traits present throughout the general population. They include personalities which thrive on a callous disregard for others, cynicism, self-centeredness, and manipulation. These traits are commonly labelled psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism, and sadism and even though research into nature connectedness has grown exponentially over the last decade, we are the first to explore the role of dark personality in the experience of nature. The results of that research have just been published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology (Free access until 20/11/20; Fido et al., 2020; also pre-print: https://psyarxiv.com/shd7v).
Our latest research looks at two UK based adult samples and the links between psychopathy and nature connectedness. We see that psychopathy (i.e., deficits in empathy and the emotional connection to others) predicts low levels of nature connectedness. This mirrors our earlier findings that low levels of nature connectedness are associated with greater callous and unemotional traits (an index of psychopathy) (Fido & Richardson, 2019; https://psyarxiv.com/dtc42/). We found this pattern with Machiavellianism (cynicism and manipulation) and sadism (enjoyment of inflicting and watching pain in others) which suggests a general lack of empathy in those low in nature connectedness. These relationships persisted even when considering the participant’s disposition (or lack thereof) to be connected with wider aspects of society. This further supports nature connectedness as a unique concept that is not to be conflated with a greater need for connection with society.
Alongside this, we looked at participant’s preference for living in inner-city areas (typically limited in green spaces) and their history of living in densely populated vs rural areas. The motivation behind this suggests that individuals characterised by dark personalities benefit from residing among others with whom they can easily manipulate and take of advantage of, with the ultimate goal of succeeding in life and establishing themselves in positions of power. We found that those who scored higher in psychopathy showed a preference for residing in inner-city, relative to rural and suburban areas – although, this did not map onto participants’ residential history. While those who scored higher in psychopathy expressed a preference for inner-city living, they did not report living in more densely populated areas.
Nevertheless, we show nature connectedness appears to be heavily implicated by personality variables which are underpinned by empathic responses to others. Moreover, as such personality traits also predict engagement in deviant and often illegal activities, there presents opportunity to further explore the role of interventions aimed at increasing our levels of nature connectedness in populations at risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system.
Fido, D., Rees, A., Clarke, P., Petronzi, D., & Richardson, M. (2020). Examining the connection between nature connectedness and dark personality. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 72, 101499.
Fido, D., & Richardson, M. (2019). Empathy Mediates the Relationship Between Nature Connectedness and Both Callous and Uncaring Traits.Ecopsychology, 11(2).
Passmore, H. A., & Holder, M. D. (2017). Noticing nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12(6), 537-546.