Twentieth Century German social psychologist Erich Fromm first advanced the notion that humans hold an inborn connection to nature. Later, it was popularized by biologist E.O. Wilson as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” In the ensuing years, support for the positive effects of nature has gained considerable traction, grounded in a growing body of research.
In recent weeks, at least four new studies have emerged adding more validity to what science repeatedly has revealed: Being around nature is good for us. The latest research shows that interacting with nature makes the brain stronger and soothes the psyche.
One study, for example, found healthy brain changes among elderly city dwellers who live near forests. Another showed positive effects of exposure to residential green spaces on the attention span of children. A third suggested that even a brief encounter with something natural—the aforementioned little flower, for example—can elevate one’s mood. Finally, another study concluded that there are certain outdoor places—rural and coastal areas—that make people happier than other locations, such as urban gardens or parks.
Collectively, the work sends a powerful message about Mother Nature as a valuable resource for human health. Moreover, it underscores the importance of protecting the environment at a time when it has come under increasing stress from climate change and urbanization.
“Exposure to nature increases people’s social wellbeing,” said Holli-Anne Passmore, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus and author of a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology that showed even a fleeting look at something natural can make a difference. And yet, today “we are becoming more disconnected from the nature around us, nature that we inherently are a part of, not separate from,” she added.