MAY 11, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

The Natural World May Help Mental Health, But Studies Lack Diversity

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

It seems like a no-brainer that the natural world would have a positive effect on our well being, particularly our mental health. With the ubiquity of social media and other digital technologies (which has shown to have detrimental effects on mental health in certain contexts), turning to the beauty of the world around us seems like the perfect alternative to our tech-driven world.

And in fact, research suggests that this is likely the case. A burgeoning field of study—which includes research studying the intersection of psychology and environmental science—suggests there are certain correlations between the world around us and our mental well being. This research claims that being in the outside world has a range of benefits for our well being, particularly for those with anxiety and depression. For example, some research suggests that group nature walks, as opposed to walking in urban areas or indoors, has a positive impact on mental wellbeing 

However, a new paper published in Current Research in Environmental Sustainability pokes holes in the ability of this field to make conclusive claims, citing a lack of diversity in studies. 

A review of 174 peer-reviewed studies investigating how the natural world impacts health and wellness found that the overwhelming majority of participants were white or lived in Western or westernized countries, 95% to be exact. Of the studies included, only one took place in Africa (South Africa), while another took place in South America. Neither study tracked demographic data.

In addition to the lack of diversity in studies was a lack of cross-cultural frameworks for analyzing the human-environment relationship. Many studies tended to look at the relationship from a typical Western perspective, with a focus on individualism and human centricity. Basically, researchers investigating the connection behind well being and nature’s impact on it were likely approaching their work from a very Western lens. 

As part of their review, researchers offer several recommendations. Among these include diversifying participants in studies, tracking demographic data more closely, and training on cross-cultural research methods. 

Sources: EurekaAlert!Current Research in Environmental Sustainability; British Journal of Occupational Therapy

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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