Chapter

Korpela, K. & Staats, H. (2014). The restorative qualities of being alone with nature. In Coplan & J.C. Bowker (eds.) The Handbook of Solitude

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Abstract

According to the restorative environments framework, after emotional or cognitive stress, solitude and being alone with nature can be considered a desirable state with positive effects. These positive effects include physiological recovery and relaxation, change to positive self-reported emotions, and recovery of the ability for attention-demanding cognitive performances. We describe a developmental trend from childhood to adulthood about the relationships between privacy-, emotion- and self-regulation which helps to understand restoration in solitary natural settings as a particular aspect of emotion- and self-regulation. We describe the social context of restoration including company of intimates, unknown others, and both known and unknown others. Social support and the company of friends may enable people to experience restoration in nature without concerns for safety. Moreover, company may enhance restoration through the mutual appreciation of the given natural setting but it also may degrade restoration if attention is drawn away from the environment.

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The nature connectedness research suggests that (re)creating human-nature connections can address both escalating ecological issues and rising mental health concerns by fostering (ecological) self-realization. Given that the nature connectedness literature oversimplifies experience of ecological self, however, there remains a need to explore lived ecological self experience, and how this experience influences mental health and environmental behaviour. In this exploratory interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA), I sought to flesh out the nature connectedness research by investigating ecological self experience among a small group of gifted adults (n=8) who measure relatively high in nature connectedness. Three research questions guided the study. The project’s primary research question was: How do gifted adults experience ecological self? Two secondary, theory-driven sub-questions refined the project further: 1. How does experience of ecological self influence mental health? 2. How does experience of ecological self influence environmental behaviour? Analysis of data collected via two semi-structured interviews held with each participant reveal that while ecological self experiences might often enhance mental health, nature experiences can also be intense, distressing, and/or ambivalent, and environmental concerns can precipitate anguish and anger. Findings also illustrate how experience of ecological self can be inconsistent: conceptions of the human-nature relationship varied, and experience of ecological self seemed to oscillate along with diurnal and seasonal cycles and appeared to evolve over the lifespan. Finally, results demonstrate that while ecological self experience may motivate pro-environmental behaviour, movement from experience to action is not automatic. Findings show how a variety of intra- and interpersonal factors can hinder pro-ecological engagement. Taken together, study results nuance the nature connectedness literature by illustrating the complexity of ecological self experience. While (re)creating human-nature connections can be considered one approach to addressing escalating ecological issues and rising mental health concerns, findings from this project suggest that the back-to-nature strategy is not a cure-all.
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Article
Notes that the concept of nature has not been at the forefront of problems chosen for psychological investigation, despite the importance of the concept of nature in human perception, attitudes, and affective responses. A differentiation is made between natural and human-made domains for a psychological analysis of human responses to the environment. Stimulus attributes forming the foundation for a distinction between natural and human-made environments are identified, based on J. J. Gibson's (1950, 1966, 1979) analysis of information contained in the visual array. Alternative views of nature as a realm of continuous change and growth, a refuge, and a symbol are considered in terms of their relevance for psychology. A research program on the structure and developmental history of the concept of nature is outlined that is based on a model of concept formation and on the Gibsonian view of perception emphasizing the specification of a set of stimulus properties. A preliminary study by the present author with 6–14 yr olds, conducted to examine Ss' modes of categorizing pictures of environmental domains, is described. Results show that all Ss tended to differentiate between natural and human-made categories, reinforcing the concept that this differentiation becomes established at an early age. (42 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
Examined person–environment relationships among 56 female and 35 male Estonian adolescents (aged 11–17 yrs). Ss described their favorite places. A clear preference for natural settings was evident, particularly among younger Ss. Older Ss were more likely to select their own room or space and less likely to mention being with family. More boys than girls mentioned comfort, quiet, and relaxation, and more described natural settings. More girls mentioned feeling safe and secure. Places that provide respite from daily pressures appear very important in meeting the psychological needs of adolescents. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
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The emerging field of emotion regulation studies how individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express them. This review takes an evolutionary perspective and characterizes emotion in terms of response tendencies. Emotion regulation is defined and distinguished from coping, mood regulation, defense, and affect regulation. In the increasingly specialized discipline of psychology, the field of emotion regulation cuts across traditional boundaries and provides common ground. According to a process model of emotion regulation, emotion may be regulated at five points in the emotion generative process: (a) selection of the situation, (b) modification of the situation, (c) deployment of attention, (d) change of cognitions, and (e) modulation of responses. The field of emotion regulation promises new insights into age-old questions about how people manage their emotions. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
We compared psychophysiological stress recovery and directed attention restoration in natural and urban field settings using repeated measures of ambulatory blood pressure, emotion, and attention collected from 112 randomly assigned young adults. To vary restoration needs, we had half of the subjects begin the environmental treatment directly after driving to the field site. The other half completed attentionally demanding tasks just before the treatment. After the drive or the tasks, sitting in a room with tree views promoted more rapid decline in diastolic blood pressure than sitting in a viewless room. Subsequently walking in a nature reserve initially fostered blood pressure change that indicated greater stress reduction than afforded by walking in the urban surroundings. Performance on an attentional test improved slightly from the pretest to the midpoint of the walk in the nature reserve, while it declined in the urban setting. This opened a performance gap that persisted after the walk. Positive affect increased and anger decreased in the nature reserve by the end of the walk; the opposite pattern emerged in the urban environment. The task manipulation affected emotional self-reports. We discuss implications of the results for theories about restorative environments and environmental health promotion measures.