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16 Ways Nature Affects Well-Being


Researchers, whose work was published in August 2022 in the journal Science Advancescarried out a review of the scientific literature in order to identify the various ways in which connections with nature can affect well-being.

Besides drinking water, food and useful raw materials, nature provides many other intangible benefits.

It can be, for example, leisure, social experiences, aesthetic or spiritual value or even a sense of belonging.

Hundreds of studies have explored the links between nature and well-being. But they often used different methods and measures, or focused on different demographics and locations. This fragmentation makes it difficult to identify general trends or commonalities about how these intangible contributions actually affect human well-being.

In an attempt to get the big picture, Lam Huynh of the University of Tokyo and his team carried out a systematic analysis of 301 academic papers. They identified 227 unique links between a single intangible service rendered (such as leisure or aesthetic value) and a single constituent of well-being (such as connectedness, spirituality or health). “We knew there were many links, but we were surprised to find so many“said the researcher. “Then (…), we were able to identify the main commonalities.»

They thus isolated 16 distinct underlying mechanisms, or types of connection, by which people experience these effects.

For example, there can be positive interactions through “cohesive”, “creative” and “formative” mechanisms, but also negative interactions through “irritative” and “destructive” mechanisms.

(1) Frequency of ecosystem services, mechanisms and building blocks of human well-being documented in the studies reviewed. See the large format in the researchers’ article (Figure 2).

Negative contributions to well-being come mainly from the degradation or loss of services previously provided by ecosystems and from “disservices” such as the annoyance caused by the noise of wildlife. While the strongest positive contributions to mental and physical health are generated primarily through recreation, tourism and aesthetic value.

Of particular interest is that the identified pathways and mechanisms, rather than independently affecting human well-being, often interact strongly“, underlines Alexandros Gasparatos, co-author. “This can create negative trade-offs in some contexts, but also important positive synergies that can be harnessed to deliver multiple welfare benefits.»

The researchers acknowledge that there may be even more links that have not yet been identified. “We hypothesize that the missing pathways and mechanisms could be present in ecosystem-dependent communities, and in particular traditional and indigenous communities, given their very particular relationships with nature.says Gasparatos.

Another of the knowledge gaps we identified is that the existing literature on these non-material dimensions of human-nature relationships focuses primarily on individual well-being rather than collective (community) well-being.says Huynh.

The team has now received a grant to explore the effects of ecosystem service provision on human well-being in Tokyo’s urban spaces.

For more information on the effects of nature on mental and physical health, see the links below.

Psychomedia with sources: University of Tokyo, Science Advances.
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