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A Smartphone App for Improving Mental Health through Connecting with Urban Nature

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In an increasingly urbanised world where mental health is currently in crisis, interventions to increase human engagement and connection with the natural environment are one of the fastest growing, most widely accessible, and cost-effective ways of improving human wellbeing. This study aimed to provide an evaluation of a smartphone app-based wellbeing intervention. In a randomised controlled trial study design, the app prompted 582 adults, including a subgroup of adults classified by baseline scores on the Recovering Quality of Life scale as having a common mental health problem (n = 148), to notice the good things about urban nature (intervention condition) or built spaces (active control). There were statistically significant and sustained improvements in wellbeing at one-month follow-up. Importantly, in the noticing urban nature condition, compared to a built space control, improvements in quality of life reached statistical significance for all adults and clinical significance for those classified as having a mental health difficulty. This improvement in wellbeing was partly explained by significant increases in nature connectedness and positive affect. This study provides the first controlled experimental evidence that noticing the good things about urban nature has strong clinical potential as a wellbeing intervention and social prescription.
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International Journal of
Environmental Research
and Public Health
Article
A Smartphone App for Improving Mental Health
through Connecting with Urban Nature
Kirsten McEwan 1, Miles Richardson 1, * , David Sheeld 1, Fiona J. Ferguson 1
and Paul Brindley 2
1Human Sciences Research Centre, The University of Derby, Derby DE22 1GB, UK;
K.McEwan@derby.ac.uk (K.M.); D.Sheeld@derby.ac.uk (D.S.); fiona-j-ferguson@hotmail.co.uk (F.J.F.)
2Department of Landscape Architecture, The University of Sheeld, Sheeld S10 2TN, UK;
P.Brindley@sheeld.ac.uk
*Correspondence: M.Richardson@derby.ac.uk; Tel.: +44-1332-593056
Received: 19 July 2019; Accepted: 7 September 2019; Published: 12 September 2019


Abstract:
In an increasingly urbanised world where mental health is currently in crisis, interventions
to increase human engagement and connection with the natural environment are one of the fastest
growing, most widely accessible, and cost-eective ways of improving human wellbeing. This study
aimed to provide an evaluation of a smartphone app-based wellbeing intervention. In a randomised
controlled trial study design, the app prompted 582 adults, including a subgroup of adults classified
by baseline scores on the Recovering Quality of Life scale as having a common mental health problem
(n=148), to notice the good things about urban nature (intervention condition) or built spaces (active
control). There were statistically significant and sustained improvements in wellbeing at one-month
follow-up. Importantly, in the noticing urban nature condition, compared to a built space control,
improvements in quality of life reached statistical significance for all adults and clinical significance
for those classified as having a mental health diculty. This improvement in wellbeing was partly
explained by significant increases in nature connectedness and positive aect. This study provides
the first controlled experimental evidence that noticing the good things about urban nature has strong
clinical potential as a wellbeing intervention and social prescription.
Keywords:
mental health; wellbeing; green space; mobile app; nature connectedness; social
prescription; urban
1. Introduction
Mental illness is the largest cause of disability in the United Kingdom (UK), contributing to 22.8%
of the total burden of disease [
1
]. The wider economic cost of mental illness is estimated at £105.2
billion per year in the UK [
2
] and 30% of the global population has suered from a mental disorder [
3
].
It is increasingly accepted that exposure to the natural environment is linked to human health and
wellbeing (for reviews, see [
4
6
]). Interventions to increase human engagement and connection with
the natural environment are widely-accessible and cost-eective ways of improving human wellbeing
and reducing health inequalities [
7
]. The importance of having access to nearby or urban green space is
recognised in policy, with the European Environment Agency recommending that people should have
access to green space within a 15-min walk from their home, the UK Government developing a 25-year
plan to increase the connection between people and nature [
8
], and the World Health Organisation
stating that urban green space is a “necessary component for delivering healthy, sustainable, liveable
conditions” [
1
]. However, with increased urbanisation [
9
] there are fewer opportunities for people to
access and engage with nature.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373; doi:10.3390/ijerph16183373 www.mdpi.com/journal/ijerph
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 2 of 15
Urban natural environments provide daily access to residents who would not normally have the
time or inclination to travel further distances to natural environments [
10
]. Therefore, interventions
are needed to connect people with urban nature close to home [
11
,
12
]. Indeed, close to home
urban natural environments providing day-to-day stress relieving eects have been seen as crucial
to one’s wellbeing [
13
], for example, through reducing anxiety [
14
] and reducing stress hormones
such as cortisol [
10
,
15
]. Based on the concept of noticing the good things in nature [
16
], this study
presented a Smartphone-based wellbeing intervention designed to engage users with the good things
in urban nature.
Two main theories accounting for the benefits of exposure to nature are Kaplan’s [
17
] Attention
Restoration Theory (ART) and Ulrich’s [
18
] Stress Reduction Theory (SRT). ART proposes that being in
and looking at nature allows the brain to recover from mental fatigue and restore attentional focus [
17
].
SRT proposes that nature can benefit wellbeing through its stress reducing properties [
19
]. For example,
physiological measurements have shown that people can recover from stressful events after being
exposed to nature via an increase in parasympathetic nervous system activity, thus reducing stress and
arousal [20].
Another possible mechanism for the beneficial eects of exposure to nature is via an increase
in positive emotions. Fredrickson’s [
21
] broaden and build theory of positive aect states that daily
increases in positive emotions broaden awareness and encourage exploration, which builds skills,
resources and psychological resilience over time, leading to sustained wellbeing benefits. Most studies
exploring nature exposure have focused on a single dimension of positive aect [
22
]. However,
Ulrich [
23
] noted two types of positive aect (positive emotional reactions to nature and wakeful
relaxation) drive physiological changes related to emotion regulation. Korpela et al. [
24
] noted that
nature provides an overlooked environment for emotional regulation and the physiological response
to nature exposure has been explained with reference to models of aect regulation [
25
]. This study
examined this by utilising a multidimensional scale of positive aect [26].
In addition to exposure to nature, the psychological construct of nature connectedness has been
identified [
27
]. Nature connectedness, defined as an “individuals’ experiential sense of oneness with
the natural world” [
27
], has been shown to be related to wellbeing across a number of psychological
variables and validated measures (for reviews see [
28
]). It has importance in terms of wellbeing [
29
],
positive aect [
30
], life satisfaction [
27
] and happiness [
31
]. Indeed, the wellbeing benefits of nature
connectedness are estimated to be as large as established factors such as income, marital status and
education [
28
]. The mechanisms by which nature connectedness brings about wellbeing are less well
understood, but relationships to positive aect have been found [
29
] which suggest a link to aect
regulation. Richardson and McEwan [
31
] found that the wellbeing benefits of nature connectedness
were facilitated by emotional regulation, consistent with SRT. However, Gidlow et al. [
32
] found ART
did not provide an explanation and Capaldi et al. [
33
] suggested that the wellbeing benefits of nature
connectedness are not adequately described by theories developed to explain the benefits of nature
exposure. In sum, nature connectedness provides both a pathway to wellbeing and can be improved
in a variety of environments, including urban [16].
Previous studies of the benefits of natural environments to wellbeing have typically been
correlational, employing spatial (Geographic Information System; GIS) analytical techniques correlating
green spaces with routine health and social care data. These have shown that access to urban green
spaces was associated with greater wellbeing, physical health and social contact [
34
39
] and lower
job-related chronic stress [
40
]. Experience sampling methods utilising technology such as Smartphone
applications [
41
,
42
], online participatory GIS [
43
46
] and social media [
47
,
48
] are increasingly being
used to assess the relationships between urban environments and wellbeing in real time in the field
and are finding that wellbeing is associated with the natural environment.
Given the benefits of nature, the mental health crisis and growing urbanity, there is a need to
go beyond correlational studies and evaluate interventions designed to improve wellbeing through
engaging with urban nature. Data collected from experimental studies that focus on interventions
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 3 of 15
to increase people’s contact and connection with nature could be of great value to public health
organisations as social prescriptions. At present, nature is an underutilised resource in public health
interventions [
6
,
49
]; for this reason conservation organisations have lobbied the UK government for
1% of the public health budget to be invested in preventative nature-based solutions [
50
]. Our study
addresses the need for evaluation of an urban nature-based intervention using an experimental design
trialing a novel Smartphone-app-based intervention (called Shmapped) to improve wellbeing.
Smartphone use is high and is expected to continue growing. A recent survey showed that 81%
of adults in the UK own a Smartphone [
51
]. Smartphones are a valuable way of reaching people,
as users have been shown to unlock their phones up to 200 times per day, and to spend most of their
phone time using apps [
52
]. This places apps in a unique position for optimising behaviour-change
interventions [
53
]. Studies utilising Smartphone apps for data collection enable the capture of large,
representative samples, have high ecological validity [
54
] and allow for in the moment and in the field
responsiveness, although a previous study involving a Smartphone wellbeing app did have a bias
toward middle-class participants [42].
Previous apps have monitored urban wellbeing, e.g., Urban Mind [
41
] and Mappiness [
42
]
and found correlations between time spent in green spaces (measured through their phones Global
Positioning System; GPS) and wellbeing (measured through questionnaires). However, these apps
were data collection tools and did not deliver any interventions. They also found that adults only
spend 7.48% of their time outdoors each day, thus, there was limited data collected on time spent in the
natural environment. The current research built on this by creating a Smartphone application called
Shmapped, which is a dual data collection tool and intervention which uses location-driven prompts
to capture people’s wellbeing in the moment of being outdoors in publicly accessible green spaces.
This was achieved through GPS positioning and geofences to locate green spaces. Although GPS and
accelerometry data were recorded in this study, these will be published elsewhere.
The intervention aspect of the app is based on a positive psychology intervention that tasks people
to notice ‘three good things’ daily, with consequent sustained improvements in wellbeing outcomes [
55
].
This awareness of positive things results in positive aect [
56
] which is theorised to broaden the scope
of attention and improve psychological resources [
57
]. In previous research, the ‘three good things’
approach was adapted to notice and write about the good things in nature and resulted in increased
nature connectedness which was associated with psychological wellbeing [
16
]. However, this research
was small in scale and did not deliver significant improvements in wellbeing. Further foundation for
the approach was provided by The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild campaign, which engaged people
with everyday nature over a month and found increases in nature connectedness, positive aect and
wellbeing [
31
]. However, this research did not recruit a control group and the participants were
overwhelmingly female. The present research is larger in scale and includes a comparison group.
The Smartphone app was created to (i) monitor peoples use of green spaces, (ii) identify
relationships between types of green space (i.e., woodland, wetland etc.) and wellbeing, and (iii) to act
as an intervention to increase nature connectedness and wellbeing (See Figure 1for a screenshot of the
app and for a detailed description of the app and its development and feasibility testing see [
58
,
59
]).
This paper focuses on the third aspect, testing the hypothesis that the wellbeing of app users will
increase in both conditions because noticing the good things about one’s surroundings is not dissimilar
to previous positive psychology-based interventions (Seligman et al., 2005) which have been shown to
improve wellbeing. However, it was hypothesised that because of the evidence linking exposure to the
natural environment and human wellbeing [
4
6
] and previous nature-based interventions improving
wellbeing through noticing and connecting to nature [
16
], the wellbeing eects would be stronger
for participants in the experimental condition who were prompted to notice nature, in contrast to a
noticing built space control. It was further hypothesised that nature connectedness would increase
in the experimental group and improvements in wellbeing would be related to increases in nature
connectedness and positive aect. The app was also trialed as a social prescription to assess whether
it would improve wellbeing in adults with common mental health diculties. Analyses were also
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 4 of 15
conducted to assess clinical significance, i.e., whether the intervention had a reliable and noticeable
eect on daily life, which is more meaningful to health professionals who are monitoring whether
interventions improve patient outcomes to a substantial enough level to be worth investing in.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16, x 4 of 15
who are monitoring whether interventions improve patient outcomes to a substantial enough level
to be worth investing in.
Figure 1. Screenshot of one of the app screens.
2. Materials and Methods
The study randomised participants to either the green space condition or an active control (built
space condition). The design was a repeated measures time-series experimental design with self-
reported measures of wellbeing and nature connectedness completed in the app at three time-points:
baseline, post-intervention and follow-up at one month. There was a desire to learn about the
experimental treatment (i.e., to gain additional information on the green space condition and its
mechanisms of action) and to maximise power, so more participants were randomised to receive it
[60]. In total, 70% of participants were randomised to the green space condition; when their phones
GPS recorded them as being within a green space, the app prompted them to enter one good thing
they had noticed. Green spaces were identified using data provided by Sheffield City Council, which
identifies all publicly accessible green and open spaces. This data was then translated into geofence
data to be picked up by a Smartphones GPS. 30% of participants were randomised to a control
condition of noticing the good things about built spaces in the same urban environment as those in
the green space condition. These participants were prompted by their phone at random points during
the day, with an evening reminder in order to produce an experience similar to those in the green
space condition. Sending out random prompts as opposed to prompting when users were not in
green spaces was necessary, as there was also no equivalent dataset identifying ‘urban or grey spaces’
held by Sheffield City Council.
Figure 1. Screenshot of one of the app screens.
2. Materials and Methods
The study randomised participants to either the green space condition or an active control
(built space condition). The design was a repeated measures time-series experimental design with
self-reported measures of wellbeing and nature connectedness completed in the app at three time-points:
baseline, post-intervention and follow-up at one month. There was a desire to learn about the
experimental treatment (i.e., to gain additional information on the green space condition and its
mechanisms of action) and to maximise power, so more participants were randomised to receive it [
60
].
In total, 70% of participants were randomised to the green space condition; when their phones GPS
recorded them as being within a green space, the app prompted them to enter one good thing they had
noticed. Green spaces were identified using data provided by Sheeld City Council, which identifies
all publicly accessible green and open spaces. This data was then translated into geofence data to
be picked up by a Smartphone’s GPS. 30% of participants were randomised to a control condition of
noticing the good things about built spaces in the same urban environment as those in the green space
condition. These participants were prompted by their phone at random points during the day, with an
evening reminder in order to produce an experience similar to those in the green space condition.
Sending out random prompts as opposed to prompting when users were not in green spaces was
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 5 of 15
necessary, as there was also no equivalent dataset identifying ‘urban or grey spaces’ held by Sheeld
City Council.
This study targeted Sheeld residents who were over 18 years old and owned a Smartphone.
Smartphone-based studies tend to attract middle-class adults [
42
]. A representative sample regarding
socio-economic status was therefore targeted by trying to encourage recruitment from areas classed
as higher on the 2015 English index of multiple deprivation. Moreover, part of the focus of the
programme of research (Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature—http://iwun.uk) was to look at
groups with reported low exposure and connection to nature. Given that people in areas of higher
deprivation have lower nature exposure (possibly due to having less access to good quality green
spaces [
61
]), this targeted recruitment was partly to encourage residents with the greatest need to
connect with nature to participate. The main strategies for promoting the Smartphone app were
through social media; distributing posters and leaflets; through conservation organisations (namely
the Wildlife Trusts), Council sta, large local employers, and General Practitioners (GPs). Responses
indicated that social media (n=408) was the most successful strategy, followed by the Wildlife Trust
(n=107) and posters/leaflets (n=103). However, most participants found out about the study through
outside these approaches as ‘other’ was selected most (n=821). Participants who completed the
post-intervention measures were eligible to receive a £20 voucher. Of the 1112 people who downloaded
the app, 582 (54.2%) were eligible to participate (aged over 18 years and living in Sheeld as denoted
by their postcode) and supplied baseline data. Of those who supplied baseline data, 322 (55.1%)
completed post-intervention measures and 164 (27.4%) completed follow-up measures at 1 month.
Depending on condition, built or nature, participants were asked to record a good thing about their
surroundings once a day for 7 days. Those who completed the study took part between November
2017 and May 2018.
In terms of being promoted as a social prescription, 59 participants were referred by their GP,
but only nine met the reference range criteria (baseline score of
24) for being classed as a clinical
population according to baseline scores on the Recovering Quality of Life (ReQoL) scale [
62
,
63
].
However, of the total sample supplying baseline data, 148 of participants were classed as having mental
health conditions within the clinical range according to the ReQoL. Table 1shows the participants’
demographics at each time point in the study. We also targeted as representative a population as
possible in terms of ethnicity and this is shown in Table 1in terms of representation of Black Asian
Minority Ethnicity (BAME) participants.
Table 1. Participant demographics per condition at baseline, post and follow-up.
Condition Baseline Post Follow-Up
Green space
n414 (71.14%) 228 (70.81%) 114 (69.51%)
Female 248 (59.9%) 130 (57%) 67 (58.8%)
Male 164 (39.6%) 98 (43%) 47 (41.2%)
Average Age 28.68 (10.43) 29.19 (10.81) 29.91 (11.17)
BAME 95 (24.2%) 47 (21.5%) 18 (15.8%)
Built space
n168 (28.86%) 94 (29.19%) 50 (30.49%)
Female 111 (59.7%) 56 (59.6%) 28 (56%)
Male 75 (40.3%) 38 (40.4%) 22 (44%)
Average Age 27.75 (9.76) 27.83 (9.84) 27.52 (10.66)
BAME 53 (28.5%) 18 (19.1%) 6 (12%)
Upon downloading the app, participants were asked to read brief information before providing
consent by tapping ‘yes, I agree’ in the app. The app then asked users if they were sure they wished
to consent and oered another chance to review the information sheet or decline consent. Of the
1112 participants who downloaded the app, 847 consented to participate. Users could revisit the
information sheet at any time in the app. The information sheet and Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA)
were also available on the study website in case participants wanted to read them before downloading
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 6 of 15
the app. The study was approved by the Human Sciences Research Ethics Committee at the University
of Derby and a regional research ethics committee.
After providing consent, participants were randomised to either the intervention condition
(70% noticing the good things about green spaces) or the control condition (30% noticing the good
things about built spaces). They were then asked to complete questionnaires within the app. Primary
outcome measures included: the 10-item Recovering Quality of Life scale (ReQoL;
α
=0.92) [
62
] and
the single item Inclusion of Nature with Self scale (INS;
α
=0.90) [
64
]. Secondary outcome measures
included the 18-item Types of Positive Aect Scale (TPAS) assessing safe, relaxed and activated positive
aect (
α
=0.83 activating and relaxed positive aect,
α
=0.73 safe positive aect) [
26
]; the 6-item short
form Nature Relatedness scale (
α
=0.86) [
30
]; and the 4-item Engagement with Natural Beauty scale
(
α
=0.87) [
65
]. Three items measured previous exposure to nature growing up, previous exposure to
nature in the last year and whether participants had access to a garden. The ReQoL was selected as,
like other measures of quality of life (QoL), it allows for health economic analysis (presented in another
paper) but focuses specifically on the mental wellbeing aspect of QoL rather than just physical health.
It also has an established minimum important dierence, allowing for analysis of clinical significance
(ReQoL Scoring, reqol.org.uk). The TPAS was selected, as unlike other unidimensional measures of
positive aect, the TPAS distinguishes between calm and activated positive aect types, which may
both be stimulated to dierent degrees by spending time in nature. The Nature Relatedness scale
and INS scales are commonly used brief measures of nature connectedness and have been used in
intervention studies [
16
,
31
]. Finally, the Engagement with Natural Beauty scale was used as it was
previously shown to mediate the relationship between nature connectedness and wellbeing [
33
] and
its use allowed us to look further at mechanisms of intervention eectiveness.
Given that adults only spend 7.48% of their time outside [
42
], green space prompts were designed
to be intelligent and prompted the user whilst they were in a green space. Built space prompts were
random but usually occurred around midday. If participants chose to ‘snooze’ their response, they were
reminded at 8 pm, as the evening is normally a time when people start to slow down and reflect upon
the day’s activities and this allowed plenty of opportunities to engage with the intervention in daylight
hours. At the end of 7 days and 1 month later, participants repeated the questionnaire measures.
3. Results
3.1. Data Analysis
Data were screened for normality and found to be within acceptable ranges. Skewness ranged
from
0.030 to
0.990 and kurtosis ranged from 0.085 to 1. The mean number of observations made
per participant was 6.54 (SD =3.23; range =1–13) indicating good adherence to the app.
Attest showed no significant dierence in scores at baseline or the number of observations
made by participants in the green and built space conditions. Analysis of the content of observations
indicated good fidelity in the green space condition, with only 24 out of 367 comments (5.51%) relating
to green features associated with built space (e.g., planters around buildings). Fidelity was not as
good in the built condition, with 31 out of 166 comments (18.67%) exclusively about green spaces.
Data were analysed using a repeated measures MANOVA (multivariate analysis of variance) with time
(baseline, post, follow-up) as the within-subjects variables and condition (noticing the good things
about green spaces versus built spaces) as the between-subjects variable. To assess which demographic
(age, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status) or profile of participant (low/high exposure and
connection to nature at baseline) benefited the most from the intervention, demographic and baseline
scores were considered as covariates. ttests and Chi-square were also used to assess for whom the
app was least or most eective. To assess the mechanisms behind the impact of the app on wellbeing,
correlations and multiple regressions were performed. The original intention was to assess whether
the app could act as a social prescription to improve wellbeing in adults approaching their GP with
mental health diculties. However, only 59 patients were signposted by their GP and only nine of
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 7 of 15
these met the reference range of the ReQoL to be classed as a clinical case. Therefore, we conducted a
MANOVA with participants who met the reference range from the general population (n=148) as a
tentative examination of the eectiveness of the app as a social prescription. In particular, we assessed
whether the change in wellbeing scores reached clinical significance, defined as an improvement of at
least five points on the ReQoL (http://www.reqol.org.uk/p/scoring.html).
3.2. The Eectiveness of Noticing the Good Things in Nature
The MANOVA revealed a statistically significant dierence between scores at baseline, post and
follow-up (F(14, 111) =4.27, p
0.001,
η
p
2
=0.350) at the multivariate level. At the univariate level,
there were significant eects for all scores except the Engagement with Natural Beauty scale. There was
no significant main eect of condition at the multivariate level (green vs. built space) (F(7, 118) =0.964,
p=0.461,
η
p
2
=0.054). However, there was a significant time (baseline, post and follow-up) by
condition (green vs. built space) interaction eect at the multivariate level (F(14, 111) =2.13, p=0.015,
η
p
2
=0.211). At the univariate level, there were no significant interaction eects. Mean scores across
variables reveal improvements in all scores and can be seen in Table 2. Higher scores on variables
indicate good wellbeing and nature connectedness. In sum, participants in both conditions (green and
built) showed improved scores after using the app across all variables except natural beauty.
Table 2. Pre- and post-participation means and confidence intervals for the outcome measures.
Measure Condition Baseline Post Follow-Up
ReQol Green 29.19 (28.53–29.85) 31.22 (30.39–32.05) 32.05 (30.93–33.18)
Built 28.67 (27.69–29.65) 29.63 (28.21–31.06) 30.69 (28.90–32.47)
Safe Green 10.41 (10.12–10.70) 10.83 (10.43–11.24) 11.47 (10.95–11.99)
Built 10.65 (10.20–11.10) 11.23 (10.60–11.87) 10.77 (9.98–11.66)
Relaxed Green 13.73 (13.36–14.11) 14.64 (14.15–15.12) 15.41 (14.17–16.11)
Built 13.81 (13.24–14.37) 15.09 (14.17–15.61) 15.10 (14.02–16.19)
Activated Green 19.16 (18.68–19.64) 19.87 (19.25–20.50) 20.63 (19.68–21.57)
Built 18.88 (18.15–19.62) 20.55 (19.45–21.66) 20.65 (19.15–22.14)
Nature Relatedness
(NR6)
Green 21.53 (21.05–22.02) 22.52 (21.88–23.17) 22.68 (21.84–23.53)
Built 21.47 (20.67–22.26) 22.41 (21.20–23.62) 21.83 (20.04–23.62)
Nature connectedness
(INS)
Green 44.23 (41.16–47.31) 49.94 (47.02–52.85) 55.40 (51.06–57.90)
Built 46.77 (41.42–52.11) 52.02 (46.56–57.48) 49.85 (47.43-53.35)
Engagement with
Natural Beauty
Green 19.30 (18.81–19.78) 19.60 (18.96–20.25) 20.19 (19.32–21.07)
Built 19.36 (18.59–20.12) 19.33 (18.07–20.06) 18.71 (16.84–20.58)
3.3. Noticing the Good Things in Nature as a Social Prescription
This analysis focused on participants who met the reference range for having a mental health
issue according to their baseline ReQoL score (n=148). The minimum important dierence for scores
on the ReQoL-10 measure to reach clinical significance is a 5-point increase [
63
]. For our sample, 78 of
the 148 participants achieved a 5-point increase (M=7.50, SD =3.02, range =5–19). The MANOVA
showed a significant multivariate between-subjects eect [F(7, 116) =16.57, p
0.001,
η
p
2
=0.500] of
caseness, with significant univariate eects for the ReQoL, three types of positive aect and nature
relatedness. There was a significant multivariate interaction eect (time x caseness) [F(14, 109) =3.16,
p
0.001,
η
p
2
=0.289], with significant univariate eects for the ReQoL (p
0.001). There was also a
significant multivariate interaction eect (condition x caseness) [F(7, 166) =2.15, p=0.043,
η
p
2
=0.115],
with significant univariate eects for the ReQoL (p=0.013). These eects were explored further using
attest where participants were grouped according to caseness (n=148) or non-caseness (n=452).
In both the built (t=
2.58, df =91, p=0.012) and green (t=
5.55, df =223, p
0.001) conditions,
participants who were classed as having baseline scores on the ReQoL which indicate clinical caseness
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 8 of 15
showed significantly greater improvements in the ReQoL than participants who were classed as being
non-cases. In the green condition, this dierence in scores exceeded the minimum important dierence
(change score =5.12). In the built space condition, the dierence in ReQoL scores was 3.20, thus not
exceeding the minimum important dierence. The implication of these results is that the improvement
in scores was clinically significant only in the green space condition [
63
]. In summary, participants
classed as having a mental health issue showed a greater improvement in scores on the ReQoL than
those classed as non-cases, and participants in the green space condition showed especially greater
improvements which met both statistical and clinical significance.
3.4. Who Benefits from Noticing the Good Things in Nature?
There was a significant multivariate between-subjects eect of time spent outside as a child
[F(7, 117) =5.06, p
0.001,
η
p
2
=0.233] on questionnaire scores between the green and built space
conditions, with significant univariate eects across all variables except Engagement with Natural
Beauty. A post-hoc ttest comparing the green and built conditions revealed a significant eect of time
(baseline, post, follow-up) in the green space condition for participants who had spent more time
outdoors as a child to show a greater improvement in nature connectedness (INS) scores (t=1.99,
df =236, p=0.048). Hence, participants who spent more time outside as a child improved more on
nature connectedness scores in the green condition compared with the built condition.
There was also a significant multivariate between-subjects eect of time spent outside in the last
year on questionnaire scores between the green and built space conditions [F(7, 117) =4.07, p
0.001,
η
p
2
=0.196] with significant univariate eects across all variables except Engagement with natural
beauty. A post-hoc ttest revealed significant eects of time (baseline, post, follow-up) in the built
condition for the ReQoL (t=2.67 df =91, p=0.009) and in the green condition for nature connectedness
(NR6 t =2.87, df =232, p=0.005 and INS t=
2.07, df =236, p=0.040). Participants who spent less
time outdoors in the last year showed greater improvements on the ReQoL in the built condition, and
those who spent less time outdoors in the last year improved more on both nature connectedness
measures in the green condition.
There was a significant multivariate between-subjects eect of baseline nature connectedness
score (INS) on questionnaire scores between the green and built space conditions [F(7, 117) =72.99,
p
0.001,
η
p
2
=0.814] and a multivariate interaction eect [F(14, 110) =3.70, p
0.001,
η
p
2
=0.320]
between baseline nature connectedness score and time (baseline, post, follow-up). At the univariate
level, there were significant between-subject eects for all variables except the ReQoL and significant
interaction eects for relaxed positive aect (p=0.023) and nature connectedness (INS) (p
0.001).
A post-hoc ttest revealed significant eects in the green space condition with both measures of nature
connectedness NR6 (t=
2.73, df =231, p=0.007) and INS ( t=7.00, df =236, p
0.001) improving more
in those who had lower baseline nature connectedness (INS) scores. In summary, in the green space
condition, nature connectedness scores improved most in those who started with a lower baseline in
nature connectedness scores.
There were no significant eects of age, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status (as measured
by the 2015 index of multiple deprivation: IMD), (p>0.05), having access to a garden, or number
of observations (as a measure of engagement) on the eectiveness of the app as an intervention to
improve wellbeing and nature connectedness. A Chi-square comparison of demographic data from
the app with two broad classes from 2015 IMD data (high and low deprivation, measured around the
median deprivation score for Sheeld) showed no significant dierence (p>0.05), indicating that the
demographic profile of the app was no dierent to expected levels of socio-economic deprivation. Hence,
this sample showed good representation of the population when compared with deprivation data.
3.5. The Mechanisms behind the Benefits
Separate analyses were performed for the green and built space conditions. In the green space
condition, correlation analysis revealed significant associations (r=0.16 to 0.22) between the changes
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 9 of 15
in wellbeing (ReQoL) and nature connectedness (INS) and types of positive aect (relaxed, safe &
activated); these were therefore entered into a regression analysis. The analysis showed a significant
model with 30% variance in the change in wellbeing explained [F(4, 218) 5.57, p
0.001]. Changes in
nature connectedness (INS) (
β
=0.21, p=0.001) and relaxed positive aect (
β
=0.16, p=0.043) emerged
as significant predictors of wellbeing, with safe positive aect just missing out on statistical significance
(
β
=0.15, p=0.051). Activated positive aect was not a predictor. In the built space condition, none of
the variables correlated with the change in wellbeing significantly; hence, regression analysis was
not conducted. To sum, in the green space condition, changes to scores of nature connectedness and
relaxed positive aect predicted wellbeing.
4. Discussion
This study assessed the eectiveness of an intervention to improve wellbeing through noticing
the good things in urban nature, thus combining nature with an existing positive psychology-based
intervention. There were significant increases in wellbeing and nature connectedness scores following
using the app for 7 days, which were sustained at a 1-month follow-up (see Table 2for descriptive
statistics). Importantly, these dierences were more pronounced in the green space condition for adults
with common mental health diculties. Hence, nature could be used to enhance an existing positive
psychology-based intervention and the results here indicate that this may be a promising intervention.
Furthermore, adults with mental health diculties (according to a MANOVA focusing on participants
meeting the ReQoL clinical cut-oscores) showed significantly greater improvements in the ReQoL
between baseline and post than participants who were classed as being non-cases, with the dierence
reaching clinical significance (in addition to statistical significance) in the urban green space condition.
This indicates that noticing the good things about urban nature has strong clinical potential as an
intervention and social prescription for improving outcomes on wellbeing.
Noticing good things in urban nature over 7 days resulted in increased wellbeing and nature
connectedness scores for participants in both the green space condition and built space condition
(see Table 2for descriptive statistics). The increase in wellbeing is consistent with evidence from
positive psychology interventions such as Seligman et al. [
55
], because noticing the good things about
ones’ surroundings is not dissimilar to previous positive psychology-based interventions. However,
because of the evidence linking exposure to the natural environment and human wellbeing [
4
6
]
and previous nature-based interventions improving wellbeing [
31
], it was hypothesised that these
eects would be stronger for participants in the noticing nature condition, in contrast to noticing
built space. This was supported. However, the increase in nature connectedness in those noting the
good things in the built environment was unexpected. Similar to previous work with those noticing
good things without a focus on nature, the level of nature connectedness at follow-up did return
towards baseline, whereas it continued to rise in the green space group [
16
]. Analysis of the content
of observations indicated some issues with fidelity in the built condition, with 18.67% of comments
exclusively about green spaces. Therefore, the short-term increase in nature connectedness could
be explained by noticing some aspects of nature. It is also possible that the intervention generally
increased participants’ attentiveness to their surroundings.
By using an experimental design, including validated measures and making comparisons to
a control group, this study provides some of the first evidence of causality that improving nature
connectedness led to improving wellbeing, therefore supporting the findings from correlational
research [
28
]. It also contributes significantly to results from other nature connectedness-based
interventions which did not include a control group, such as The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild [
31
].
The evaluation of 30 Days Wild found that engaging with nature every day improved wellbeing
and nature connectedness, although unlike the current study, this was not focused within an
urban environment.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 10 of 15
4.1. Noticing the Good Things in Urban Nature as a Social Prescription
In terms of acting as a social prescription, the app showed promise. In both conditions, participants
classed as having a mental health diculty according to the Recovering Quality of Life scale (ReQoL),
showed significantly greater improvements in the ReQoL than participants who were classed as being
non-cases. In the green condition, this dierence in scores exceeded the minimum important dierence
on the ReQoL (an improvement
5 points) and reached clinical significance. Maller et al. [
66
] advocated
nature-based interventions as a basis for a socio-ecological approach to public health and a strategy in
the prevention and alleviation of mental ill health, with potential application for higher risk individuals.
The current work supports this approach, provides a specific methodology and extends it to a focus on
nature connectedness. Regression to the mean within a sub-group is a potential issue, however, there
is no reason to suspect that regression to the mean should be greater in the nature group compared to
the built group. ReQoL was used to identify case or non-case, but the analysis explicitly looked at
change in ReQoL. Moreover, test and retest reliability for ReQoL has been examined in both patient
and general population samples by intraclass coecients and found to be acceptable [62].
4.2. Who Benefits from Noticing the Good Things in Nature?
Participants who gained particular benefits from using the app included (i) participants who
had spent more time outdoors as a child, who showed greater improvement in nature connectedness
(INS) scores in the green space condition, (ii) participants who spent less time outdoors in the last
year, who improved more on the ReQoL in the built condition and on nature connectedness in the
green space condition, and (iii) those who had lower baseline nature connectedness scores improved
more on nature connectedness in the green space condition. Overall, similar to 30 Days Wild [
31
],
this is supportive of targeting those who spend little time outside, as greater benefits of nature-based
interventions were found. This also highlights the need for engagement with nature in everyday life.
There is some discussion that childhood exposure to nature is important for nature connectedness as an
adult [
67
], but there have been no longitudinal studies to evidence this, so this is an interesting finding
and perhaps evidence of a ‘latent nature connectedness’. In other words, if a childhood connection
with nature is reignited by using an intervention like the app, this can result in a renewed nature
connectedness and subsequent wellbeing benefits.
4.3. The Mechanisms behind the Benefits
Building on previous literature on the wellbeing benefits of nature connectedness [
28
], increased
nature connectedness was a predictor of increased wellbeing in participants using the app. This is
consistent with previous research showing that interventions that seek to increase nature connectedness,
had beneficial eects on wellbeing [
16
] and supports the growing importance of the psychological
construct of nature connectedness as a new paradigm for wellbeing [
68
]. In addition, increased relaxed
positive aect was a significant predictor of the improvement in wellbeing in the green space condition,
which is consistent with previous literature showing that exposure to natural environments was
associated with greater wellbeing than in built environments [41].
This study was the first to use a multidimensional measure of positive aect, which distinguishes
low arousal/positive valence aects (such as relaxed and safe positive aects) from high arousal/positive
valence aects (such as activated positive aects) as an outcome measure for a nature connectedness
intervention. Low arousal positive aects, such as relaxation, have been found to uniquely predict
life satisfaction, depression, wellbeing, mindfulness, anxiety, and stress beyond high arousal positive
aects, such as activation [
69
]. The inclusion of the Types of Positive Aect Scale [
26
] revealed a
unique finding: an intervention which increased nature connectedness and relaxed positive aect
predicted increased wellbeing. This indicates a pathway which oers support for the Stress Reduction
Theory [
19
], proposing that being in and looking at nature is restorative and reduces arousal and
stress. The finding that relaxed positive aect and nature connectedness were predictors of increased
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 11 of 15
wellbeing is also consistent with the aect regulation account of wellbeing [
25
,
26
,
31
], which states
that low arousal positive aect such as relaxation and high arousal activated positive aect, such as
excitement, can oer unique inputs to wellbeing through nature connectedness.
4.4. Limitations and Future Directions
Given the wider project requirements, timeframe and budget, engagement with the app could
have been further enhanced. There was a compromise in trying to create an app that was suitable for
data collection and evaluation but was at the same time engaging. A feasibility study revealed that
whilst participants found the app functional, they only found it moderately engaging [
58
]. If engaged
with more frequently, the noticing the good things in nature concept used by the app has promise as an
intervention to improve wellbeing and nature connectedness. The wider mapping concept of the app
also has value as a data collection tool for monitoring the quality and usage of urban green spaces so
that these can be optimised to improve wellbeing.
Numbers of participants approaching their GP with common mental health problems who were
signposted through GPs were disappointing, and few of those referred were classed as clinical cases
(according to baseline scores on the ReQoL). Therefore, the question about the eectiveness of the app
as a social prescription was tentatively tested by taking participants from the general population who
met the reference range criteria for the ReQoL. It is important to note that these individuals may not
classify themselves as having a mental health issue, or be approaching their GP with a mental health
issue and true testing as a social prescription will need to be a focus of future research. The study
aimed to recruit 500 healthy participants and 100 adults with common mental health problems to
test the feasibility of the app as a social prescription. The study exceeded the recruitment target for
a healthy population (n=582) but failed to recruit the target for participants presenting to their GP
with common mental health problems (n=59 referrals from GPs). Although GPs, IAPT and social
prescription organisations were initially enthusiastic about signposting to the app, this did not translate
into recruitment. On discussion with GPs, known barriers were (i) lack of time during consultation—it
was felt that even handing patients a leaflet would lead to lengthy discussions, (ii) competition from
other healthy living, wellbeing and physical exercise interventions, (iii) practice payments were not
substantial enough to be seen as an incentive, (iv) the app is not currently an NHS approved app
and was therefore seen by some as a patient-safety risk as participants may choose to write about
their distress instead of writing about good things as instructed by the app. The responses during
the study found no evidence to support this concern, nor did previous research where participants
were asked to keep a written diary of three good things in nature [
16
]. When discussing social
prescriptions with other organisations, a lack of signposting by GPs was a common story, which
is supported by a review of social prescriptions which found that referrals from GPs were in the
minority [
7
]. More qualitative research is required to explore the barriers and facilitators of health
professionals being willing and confident to refer into social prescription interventions. It was recently
recognised that social prescriptions could be a cost-eective way of reducing the burden on the NHS,
with the UK Government investing £4.5 million in social prescriptions [
70
]. When asked in the app
how participants had heard about the study, ‘other’ was the most common response. Unfortunately,
‘other’ cannot be examined further as a category, as it was the multiple-choice option within the
app. This shows that the planned recruitment strategies produced fewer participants than the more
unplanned, ‘viral’ approaches.
Retention rates from baseline to post-intervention (55.06%) and from post-intervention to follow-up
(27.36%) were disappointing, considering that all participants completing the study at 1-month
follow-up were oered a £20 voucher (see Table 1for demographics throughout the study). This is an
improvement on retention rates for an earlier 30-day version of the app in which 11.49% completed
post-intervention measures [
59
]. Engagement with the app was compromised by the need to collect data
to answer multiple research questions and required long on-boarding with questionnaires, consent and
mobile phone permissions. An app simply focused on noticing the good things in nature could be
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019,16, 3373 12 of 15
much more straightforward and engaging. Finally, it is suggested that similar studies in the future
should include a longer follow-up period than a month to ascertain the lasting eects of this kind
of intervention.
5. Conclusions
Mental wellbeing and urbanisation are global issues. The study provided evidence that nature
could be used to enhance an existing positive psychology-based intervention of noticing the good things
in one’s surroundings to improve wellbeing. Using a novel urban social prescription implemented as a
Smartphone app resulted in statistically significant improvements in wellbeing for adults in general,
and statistically and clinically significant improvements in wellbeing for those classed as having
a mental health diculty. These eects were especially pronounced in the green space condition,
indicating that noticing the good things about urban nature has value as a public health intervention.
This study provides the first controlled experimental research evidence that a nature-based social
prescription intervention can be eective in an urban environment. Providing everyday opportunities
to improve wellbeing and reduce health inequalities through engaging with urban nature with a brief,
portable, widely accessible and cost-eective Smartphone app intervention is of interest to public
health organisations seeking solutions to mental health crises in an increasingly urbanised society [
9
].
Author Contributions:
Based on concept by M.R., initial research design and Smartphone app concept work was
led by M.R. with support from D.S. and K.M., before being completed by M.R., D.S. and K.M. Implementation of
the app was undertaken by M.R., K.M., D.S. and P.B. in liaison with the acknowledged developers. K.M. led the
conduct of the research supported by M.R., D.S. and P.B., K.M. performed data cleaning and statistical analysis
and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. M.R., P.B. and F.J.F. contributed to manuscript revision.
Funding:
This work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, ESRC, BBSRC, AHRC & Defra
[NE/N013565/1]. The APC was funded by The University of Sheeld.
Acknowledgments:
We would like to acknowledge the support and input from the app developers,
Furthermore Ltd.
Conflicts of Interest:
The authors declare no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the
study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to
publish the results.
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... Eight articles within this literature review were associated with the concept of Subjective Wellbeing: Chrisinger and King [37]; Mackerron and Mourato [6]; Kyttä et al. [3]; McEwan et al. [38]; Katapally et al. [20]; Samuelsson et al. [31]; and Fuller et al. [5]. ...
... A similar approach was presented by Fuller et al. [5]. Complementarily, McEwan et al. [38] and Mackerron and Mourato [6] related the level of wellbeing with the degree of connectivity with nature, while Samuelsson et al. [31], Kytta et al. [3], and Chrisinger and King (2018) directly studied SWB in relation with urban environmental features. Finally, Katapally et al. [24] tried to encourage it by promoting active living surveillance platforms. ...
... Other methodological approaches not related to participatory mapping have also been identified among the reviewed articles, such as interviews [32] or a positive psychology intervention [38]. However, the most recurrent and significant is Quantified Self [5,37]. ...
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(1) Background: To assess the quality of the built environment, it is necessary to study both the physical components and the inhabitants’ perceptions. However, since objective indicators are easily measurable, most studies have centered only on analyzing the physical dimensions of cities. Currently, the massification of information technology and the emergence of digital platforms are offering new participatory channels for studying citizens’ perceptions of the built environment. (2) Objective: considering the scarcity of the theoretical and methodological approaches supporting this new research, the main objective of this article is centered on contributing to the field by developing a scoping review of the publications assessing the perception of the built environment through digital platforms and concluding with a conceptual framework to support future research. (3) Methods: to do so, 98 articles were reviewed and 21 of them were selected and studied in detail after applying a selection criteria identifying papers that analyzed the urban environment (Criteria 1), used participatory processes (Criteria 2), were developed with the support of digital platforms (Criteria 3), and were centered on the study urban places, therefore excluding mobility (Criteria 4), which was done in order to identify the main theoretical and methodological approaches used for studying perception in the built environment. (4) Results: The research identified Audit Tools and Perception Tools to study citizens’ perceptions. Audit Tools are methodologically related to Systematic Social Observation (SSO). Perception Tools rely on transactional person–environment or Public Participation as the main theories, followed by Subjective Wellbeing (SWB), Physical Activity (PA), and Social Sustainability as fields where these studies are being applied. Participatory mapping is identified as a general methodology, considered the basic technical tool of Public Participation Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS). Place-based and Citizens Science are other methodologies supporting perception research. (5) Conclusions: Finally, the proposed framework for assessing the perception of the built environment supports the notion that, in order to study perception, both subjective and objective approaches are necessary. The subjective approach supports the study of the self-reported perceived environment while the objective approach is used to collect urban structure data so as to understand the socio-environmental context conditioning the experience. Keywords: built environment; perception; subjective assessment; scoping review; PPGIS
... Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have shown that nature connectedness is a key factor in the pro-environmental behaviours associated with addressing climate warming (Mackay and Schmitt 2019) and the pro-nature conservation actions that support biodiversity (Richardson et al. 2020a). Further, systematic reviews and meta-analyses have shown positive associations with mental well-being (Pritchard et al. 2020) with a causal link being evidenced (McEwan et al. 2019). Given the emerging importance of the construct to help address the global challenges of climate change, wildlife loss and mental well-being (Lambert et al. 2020;Dasgupta 2021), there is value in exploring the relationship between country-level metrics that may explain closer and more distant relationships with nature. ...
... Lekies and Brensinger 2017;although see Oh et al. 2020;Novotný et al. 2021). Research shows that direct experience, simple engagement and noticing nature are key to developing nature connectedness (McEwan et al. 2019;Richardson et al. 2022). As urban populations live in built environments which typically have less green space, nature and biodiversity (Miller 2005), there is less nature to notice and engage with and therefore we would expect to see lower levels of nature connectedness in countries with more people living in urban environments (Soga and Gaston 2016). ...
... There is little research that directly examines nature connectedness and biodiversity, yet there is related research that suggests an association (Hoyle et al. 2019). When prompted, people are good at estimating levels of certain types of biodiversity across various habitats (Cameron et al 2020), and a relationship to nature connectedness is likely owing to improved levels of nature connection being built through noticing nature (McEwan et al. 2019). ...
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Climate change and biodiversity loss show that the human–nature relationship is failing. That relationship can be measured through the construct of nature connectedness which is a key factor in pro-environmental behaviours and mental well-being. Country-level indicators of extinction of nature experience, consumption and commerce, use and control of nature and negativistic factors were selected. An exploratory analysis of the relationship between these metrics and nature connectedness across adult samples from 14 European countries was conducted ( n = 14,745 respondents). The analysis provides insight into how affluence, technology and consumption are associated with the human–nature relationship. These findings motivate a comparison of how nature connectedness and composite indicators of prosperity, progress, development, and sustainability relate to indicators of human and nature’s well-being. In comparison to composite indexes, it is proposed that nature connectedness is a critical indicator of human and nature’s well-being needed to inform the transition to a sustainable future.
... Interventions that encourage people to actively engage with nature, via simple activities such as smelling flowers (Richardson et al. 2016, Richardson and McEwan 2018 or noticing good things in nature , have demonstrated potential in this regard. Prompts (Colléony et al. 2020b) and smartphone apps (McEwan et al. 2019, Cameron et al. 2020 can also encourage more active engagement with nature. ...
... As such, nature connection has become a focus of different types of research, including experimental research that looks at interventions to enhance nature connection, both in children [17] and in adults [18][19][20]. Moreover, we have also seen the cross-sectional measurement of nature connection in more extensive populations, childhood and adolescence [21,22] and in adulthood [23]. ...
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While nature connection, which describes a positive relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world, has been a focus of numerous research studies in the last few decades, relatively little attention has been paid to nature disconnection. While the majority of the populations reported in most studies tend to be highly connected, there is a small percentage of those who feel they have no connection to the natural world. In this paper, we examine this novel construct of nature disconnection through secondary analysis of existing data from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey (MENE) by Natural England. From our analysis of this disconnected population, we can see that they are more likely to be young (16–24 years old), male, not employed and living in rented accommodation. We also observe that they have lower levels of life satisfaction and pro-environmental behaviours. We go on to present an initial theoretical discussion as to the origins of disconnection and propose further research directions to tackle the under-theorisation of this construct.
... Fostering your connection with nature need not involve large investments of time or resources, or extended wilderness experiences. Noticing everyday nature and engaging with nearby urban nature through simple activities have been shown to effectively deepen individuals' connection to nature (Lumber et al., 2017;McEwan et al., 2019) and boost well-being (Passmore & Holder, 2017;Passmore & Howell, 2014;Passmore et al., 2022aPassmore et al., , 2022b. Recent studies evidencing that people spend increased amounts of time in urban parks as a coping mechanism during COVID-19 restrictions highlight the critical role that urban nature plays in reducing stress and loneliness and enhancing well-being (Masashi et al., 2021;Nature Conservancy of Canada, 2021). ...
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Eco-anxiety is the experience of persistent feelings of anxiety regarding degradation of our natural environment. Building upon the work of existential psychologists and our own Eco-Existential Positive Psychology framework, we consider how eco-anxiety engenders the existential anxieties of identity, happiness, meaning, death, freedom, and isolation. Regarding identity, ever-shrinking biodiversity and the threat this poses to the existence of our species has made us contemplate our nonbeing, and with that our identity as beings. Our happiness, too, is ill-affected by reduced opportunities to engage with thriving ecosystems as a result of climate crises. Our sense of coherence, connectedness, and continuity—and therefore, meaning in life—is diminished as landscapes and ecosystems that we have become attached to over time become degraded and disrupted. Mounting environmental crises conjure fears of death, including the possible mortality of our human species as a collective. While nature has long been associated with freedom of human behavior and spirit, a broken human–nature relationship leads to an infringement on our autonomy. Finally, the experience of eco-anxiety appears to be a solitary one, heightening our sense of isolation. We discuss implications of these existential threats, emphasizing that ecoanxiety is something with which we need to cope and live.
... Some exceptions, though, do exist. Two such exceptions are studies which involved participants noting three good things in nature on a daily basis for 1 week (McEwan et al., 2019;Pocock et al., 2021, under review). In both of these studies, participants randomly assigned to the Three Good Things in Nature condition reported higher levels of wellbeing. ...
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The main objective of this 2-week RCT study was to test the efficacy of the previously developed Noticing Nature Intervention (NNI) to boost wellbeing during winter months. The NNI consists of noticing the everyday nature encountered in one's daily routine and making note of what emotions are evoked. Community adults (N = 65) were randomly assigned to engage in the NNI or were assigned to one of two control conditions. Paired t-tests revealed significant increases pre-to post-intervention in the NNI group for positive affect (d = 0.43), elevation (d = 0.59), nature connectedness (d = 0.46), and hope agency (d = 0.64), and a marginally significant increase in transcendent connectedness (d = 0.41). No significant pre-post difference emerged for any aspect of wellbeing in the control conditions. Analysis of qualitative findings revealed that negative emotion themes were 2.13 times more likely to be associated with built photos than with nature photos. Feelings of peace, awe, happiness, humbleness, and hope were more likely to be associated with nature photos, while feelings of annoyance, loneliness, curiosity, uncertainty, anger, yearning, and comfortableness were more likely to be associated with built photos. Overall, results indicated that engaging in the NNI can provide a wellbeing boost, even in the cold of winter. This study is the first (to our knowledge) to test any nature-based wellbeing intervention during colder, winter months, and to directly assess the impact of a nature-based wellbeing intervention on levels of hope.
... En una posición diferencial a esta línea de hallazgos, hay evidencia sobre cómo afectar la conectividad con la naturaleza a partir de intervenciones breves, que no incluyen experiencia de contacto inmersivo en la naturaleza, sino atención focalizada y, en teoría, factibles para cualquier tipo de escenario (McEwan et al., 2019;Richardson y Sheffield, 2015;. Estos hallazgos permitirían la fácil adopción de intervenciones ambientales en condiciones socioeconómicas y geográficas que no permiten las intervenciones duraderas y de inmersión natural; por ejemplo, en países con ingresos medios y bajos. ...
Chapter
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Chapter
This chapter considers the social, individual and behavioural dimensions that result in a familiar landscape becoming an unfamiliar place to visit. Here unfamiliar is considered to be a lack of experience of a place rather than a lack of recognition. Many of us recognise a local park, however, that does not explicitly mean we have experience of, or attachment to the place. Specifically, this chapter considers the opportunity to support university students’ use of nearby green space for their wellbeing. It details the results of focus groups on urban green spaces and why certain aspects prevent university students’ engagement. This chapter answers why it is important to understand the dimensions of an urban green space which make it unpleasant, threatening and ultimately unfamiliar.
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A strong connection with nature promotes behaviors that help conserve the natural world. However, it is likely that this relationship is reciprocal, with proconservation behaviors positively impacting nature connectedness by increasing sensory contact with nature. Proconservation behaviors vary in terms of how much visible biodiversity, and therefore contact with nature, they produce. It is likely that conservation behaviors that support higher visible biodiversity will result in more sensory contact with nature and, therefore, greater levels of nature connectedness. This research explores the relationship between garden-focused pronature conservation behavior, noticing nature and nature connectedness using data from Natural England's People and Nature Survey in the United Kingdom (n = 4206), a large national survey that includes items to measure noticing nature, nature connectedness, and pronature conservation behaviors. Results are consistent with the hypothesis that undertaking garden-based pronature conservation behaviors that enhance visible biodiversity leads to an increase in noticing nature, which, in turn, leads to an increase in nature connectedness. These results point to a relatively simple way to boost nature connectedness: boost and engage people with visible biodiversity.
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Human relationships with nature are increasingly being recognized as an important factor in environmental conservation. Understanding how people perceive and know nature, and the language they use to describe nature - their concepts of nature - could have important implications for conservation policy and management. This empirical research sought to examine and categorize concepts of nature, and explore how such thoughts relate to connection with nature and conservation behaviors. Multidimensional scaling revealed three concepts of nature categories: descriptive (e.g. plants, animals, landscapes), normative (e.g. conservation, balance, life), and experiential (e.g. activities in nature, positive emotions, aesthetic qualities), plus a complex category (two or more of the descriptive, normative, or experiential categories). Connection with nature scores (total and dimensions) were higher among participants who described nature in experiential or complex terms than those who described nature in descriptive terms. Participants who described nature in experiential terms were more likely to have participated in environmental volunteering, citizen science, picking up litter, and community gardening in the past year than those who used descriptive terms. Concepts of nature moderated the relationship between connection with nature and picking up litter. These results may usefully inform conservation policies and campaigns intended to increase connection with nature and participation in conservation behaviors, through the use of language emphasizing experiential and more complex concepts of nature, by encouraging personal reflection on one's experiences of nature, and through the design of natural spaces that encourage active engagement with nature.
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Recent research suggests that engagement with natural beauty (EWNB) is key to the well-being benefits of nature connectedness. The Wildlife Trust's 30 Days Wild campaign provides a large-scale intervention for improving public engagement with nature and its beauty. The effect of 30 Days Wild participation on levels of EWNB and the relationship between EWNB, nature connectedness and happiness was evaluated during the 2017 campaign. Of the 49,000 people who signed up to the campaign, 308 people fully completed measures of EWNB, nature connection, health, happiness, and conservation behaviors at baseline, post-30 days and post-2 months. There were sustained and significant increases for scores in nature connection, health, happiness, and conservation behaviors. In addition, 30 Days Wild was the first intervention found to increase EWNB. Further, the significant increase in EWNB mediated the relationship between the increases in nature connectedness and happiness. In a supplementary study to understand the well-being benefits further (n = 153), emotional regulation was found to mediate the relationship between nature connectedness and happiness, but EWNB and emotional regulation were not related. The links between nature's beauty, nature connectedness and well-being are discussed within an account of affect-regulation.
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