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Monday, September 20, 2010

The Psychological Benefits of Nature

"Few would argue that a good walk in nature leaves us feeling revitalised and uplifted. While the very act of taking exercise has undoubted benefits, there are numerous studies which show that connecting with nature specifically leads to a wide variety of positive outcomes, physically, psychologically and even socially.

A 2008 study showed that people who reported high contact with nature were more likely to also report feeling positive and on top of the world. Other studies have found that connecting with nature reduces stress and improves cognitive functioning.

It does not even need to be a connection with real nature that produces the benefits. A US study examined the effects of a 15-minute walk outdoors, versus watching a nature video. Both approaches had a positive effect on peoples emotions, attention, and ability to self-reflect, although the walk in real nature had a more powerful effect. In a similar study, people shown photographs of nature settings reported greater increases in “vitality” than those shown photos of buildings – although neither was as effective as leading them on a walk through nature.

Children appear especially likely to benefit from exposure to nature. One interesting piece of research studied the effects on children upon relocating into a different house. Houses were rated according to the naturalness of their settings, including the view from the windows and the existence of natural elements in the yard. The authors reported that “results indicate that children whose homes improved the most in terms of greenness following relocation also tended to have the highest levels of cognitive functioning following the move”.

Another fascinating series of studies by Bruce Appleyard uses a technique called “Cognitive Mapping” to get children to draw representations of their neighbourhood. In one of the studies, he asked them to draw a map of their neighbourhood, and to comment on and represent positive elements and negative or dangerous elements. Those children in heavily traffic dependent neighbourhoods were more likely to draw dangerous, negative elements, their maps being more linear and lacking detail. In contrast, children in low traffic dependent areas drew more trees, play areas and positive, detailed images. The conclusion from this and similar studies is that children who view their neighbourhood from the back of a car see it as less rich and detailed, and more dangerous.

There are a few theories as to why contact with nature has such a positive effect on us, one of which is Attention Restoration Theory (ART). ART proposes that our attention gets stretched by day to day living, which negatively impacts our concentration, problem-solving ability and mood. By connecting with nature, our attention is restored, thus reducing these negative effects. A leading proponent of ART, Robert Kaplan, describes the following four elements of a natural setting as critical to restoration of attention.

· being away: being distinct, either physically or conceptually, from the everyday environment

· fascination: containing patterns that hold one’s attention effortlessly

· extent: having scope and coherence that allow one to remain engaged

· compatibility: fitting with and supporting what one wants or is inclined to do

When these four elements are present, the conditions are ideal for our attention to take a break and restore all manner of cognitive and emotional capacities.

The emerging field of Eco-therapy recognises these benefits and is incorporating a number of principles into interventions to alleviate all kinds of medical and psychological disorders. An overview of Eco-therapy research describes a study where 90% of participants who went on a nature walk reported an elevation in self-esteem, whereas 44% of those who walked through an indoor shopping centre reported reduced self-esteem.

Aside from the straight wellbeing benefits of exposure to nature, there are a number of other positive outcomes for society and the planet. One of these benefits is an enhanced desire to undertake environmentally friendly behaviours. A German study found that experiences in nature created an emotional affinity to it, which in turn made people more likely to take actions to protect the natural environment. Another study found that those who had a greater appreciation for the restorative aspects of a natural setting (based on the ART theory above), were more likely to report eco-friendly behaviour. Furthermore, research has even shown that people who have had positive experiences with nature are more likely to be involved in community service.

So the evidence is unequivocal – the more we can create opportunities for people to engage with nature, the greater the benefits, psychologically, physically, emotionally and socially."


"The feature article above highlights the importance of connecting with nature for our wellbeing. This months exercise provides an opportunity to review and look for ways we can incorporate “nature time” into our day.

1. Thinking about your day-to-day routine, do you get regular exposure to nature?

2. What could you do to increase your daily contact with natural settings? Could you…

a. Take your lunch break outside instead of inside?

b. Add a 15-minute walk to your day – perhaps before breakfast or after dinner?

c. Move your desk so that you have a view of a natural setting?

d. Do some of your work outside?

3. When choosing a spot to connect to nature, you may wish to compare it to the 4 key elements of a natural setting outlined above

· being away: is it away from your normal environment?

· fascination: does it contain patterns that hold one’s attention effortlessly?

· extent: does it have scope and coherence that allows you to remain engaged?

· compatibility: does it fit with what you are inclined to do?

Although many of us regularly take a break in the fresh air, I’d be surprised if many people deliberately take the time to consider the quality of the natural setting we choose. By doing so, we may find that we gain the maximum benefit from our contact with nature."

Source: Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations. Visit for more info

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+