How is nature related to well-being?  It’s complicated, scientists say

How is nature related to well-being? It’s complicated, scientists say

In the past few years, countless scientific studies – and media reports – have touted the benefits of nature for improved well-being. But it turns out there’s more to the scientific literature than the headlines suggest.

In an article published in the magazine on Friday scientific advancesResearchers reviewed hundreds of studies on the “cultural ecosystem services” that nature provides for well-being, which is a fancy way of referring to the intangible – i.e. non-economic – impacts that nature has on humans

Her meta-review reveals far more complex connections between nature and well-being than the well-worn narratives surrounding nature and better mental health. By looking more closely at the existing scientific literature, the researchers suggest that we can develop better strategies that take into account how different groups of people interact with the environment and the intangible benefits they derive from being in nature.

“In this paper, we don’t simply identify the differences [cultural ecosystem services]but we go deeper to find out how they relate to different aspects of human well-being,” says Alexandros Gasparatos Vice versa. Gasparatos is co-author of the article and Associate Professor of Sustainability Studies at the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Future Initiatives (IFI).

How they did it – In their assessment, the researchers evaluated more than 300 scientific papers to draw specific conclusions about nature’s cultural ecosystem services and their impact on human well-being.

Cultural ecosystem services refer to the “intangible and often intangible contributions of nature to humans,” explains Gasparatos.

These intangible contributions could include recreation and leisure, knowledge-gathering, spiritual fulfillment, community building, finding a “sense of place” in nature, and “aesthetic experiences” (well yes, selfies in a scenic forest for the gram it would probably do count). It’s a way of looking at nature beyond the material and economic benefits we derive from it.

A figure from the study shows the links between cultural ecosystem services and well-being. The thickness or width of each line relates to how often that association appears in the scientific literature. Huynh et al.

What they found – After studying this extensive scientific literature, the researchers concluded that there are more than 200 “unique connections” or pathways between cultural and ecosystem services and well-being.

The scientists were then able to narrow these links down to 68 pathways. Of the 68 signaling pathways, 45 had a positive and 23 negative impact on human well-being.

It may seem surprising that nature can be detrimental to well-being, but if you’ve ever been disgusted by a smelly plant or afraid to walk alone through a spooky forest, then you’ve experienced one of these negative interactions. Very few studies have systematically analyzed the negative associations between nature’s cultural ecosystem services and well-being.

Through further analysis, the scientists determined that there are four different ways humans typically interact with nature. These include:

  1. Cultural Practices – Opportunities to make, exercise, and collect natural products
  2. Intellectual Practices — Gaining New Knowledge
  3. Spiritual Practices – Religious activities that take place through nature
  4. Form – Engaging with nature through physical and tangible actions

The scientists also categorized these interactions by “mechanism,” or the nature of the experience. Suppose being in nature inspires you to draw or paint – that would be a “creative” experience. While someone gazing upon a high mountain and experiencing an overwhelmingly powerful force would have a “transcendent” experience, which the treatise defines as “the benefits that are beyond ordinary experience and the normal physical realm, and more commonly with religious ones.” or things related to religion, spiritual values ​​through interaction with nature.”

Overall, the researchers identified 16 different types of mechanisms that span the range of human encounters with nature. The complexity of these interactions amazed the researchers.

“The mechanisms and pathways are much more than we originally thought,” says Gasparatos.

Some of these paths have “compromises” with each other – and not always in a good way. A good example is the trade-off between recreation and leisure – ie tourism – and spiritual practices. Tourists might enjoy a weekend hike in the wilderness, but they might also be trampling on sacred lands traditionally used for indigenous spiritual activities. Tourism can also lead to the development of certain areas, which can lead to environmental degradation and loss of indigenous knowledge of the local ecosystem.

Finally, Gasaparatos says the existing research suggests that the “internal” connections to nature, like the sense of community we get from being with others in nature or the knowledge we gather about nature, have a stronger impact have on human well-being than the monetary benefits that nature provides for economic output.

The study analyzes the existing scientific literature to draw conclusions about the links between “cultural ecosystem services” – nature’s intangible impacts such as community building – and human well-being. Getty

Why it matters – The new paper notes that humans interact with nature in complex ways — perhaps more than we’ve previously understood — but what’s the bigger impact?

First, the study shows how we have often overlooked certain connections to nature—such as its importance in cultural practices or indigenous knowledge—in popular discourse, while primarily focusing on the apparent mental health benefits of spending time outdoors .

Gasparatos says the selective focus is likely due to “health being much more prominent in the public debate than other aspects like place awareness or culture.”

Additionally, studies that focus on the cultural and intellectual connections to nature usually focus on specific communities or “ethnographies”, making them more difficult to assess quantitatively and communicate to a wider audience.

Secondly: Gasparatos and his research colleagues did not find these connections in nature themselves, but they were able to work them out from the existing scientific literature in a way that had never been seen before.

“What we’re doing here is systematizing the literature in a very novel way that allows us to sort of compare these benefits between studies,” explains Gasaparatos.

Finally, this research could improve environmental design and ecosystem management by helping those in positions of power to understand these complex connections between nature and human well-being.

For example, if a city official wants to establish green spaces to improve the physical and mental well-being of city dwellers, they can look at the specific “pathways” associated with that goal and design green spaces accordingly — like implementing landscaping designs that have a calming effect Effect to reduce stress or natural elements that appeal to the senses.

What’s next – Still, according to the paper, there are significant gaps in the connection between nature and well-being that the existing scientific literature has yet to address.

“One of the knowledge gaps that we identified is that the existing literature focuses primarily on individual well-being and does not focus on collective — community — well-being,” says Gasparatos.

To fill this gap, the research team intends to conduct a “multi-level assessment of well-being” based on the findings of this recent paper. Her future research will assess the impact on residents’ well-being in different environments ranging from dense Tokyo to a “rapidly urbanized” area in central Vietnam where coastal ecosystems are being redesigned for tourism.

The project will serve as “a logical follow-up to test how some of the pathways and mechanisms identified unfold in reality and intersect with human well-being,” concludes Gasparatos.

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