Understanding the Beneficial Relationship between Nature and Well-Being in Daily Life– a Multi-Method Mediational Investigation
Nature is thought to enrich well-being: The more time people spend in nature, the happier they feel. But how consistent is this link, and what mechanisms might account for the salutogenic effects of nature on well-being? The aim of this thesis was to investigate the beneficial effects of nature on emotional well-being in people’s daily lives and to deepen the scientific understanding of the mechanism(s) linking nature to emotional well-being. Following a brief overview of this thesis (Chapter 1- Introduction), I discuss the current literature on nature and well-being, focusing on theories of biophilia and attentional theories that might account for the nature and well-being relationship (Chapter 2- Literature Review). In the literature review, I identify several gaps in current research and discuss one possible mediator of the link between nature and well-being - the concept of fascination (defined as the extent to which attention is drawn effortlessly by objects in the environment). Next, I present a series of five empirical studies (Study 1-5) consisting of one correlational daily diary study and four field experiments that collectively sought to test the relationship between nature and two markers of well-being – increased positive affect and decreased negative affect. Study 1-2 explored and established fascination as a reliable mediator of the relationship between nature and positive affect (PA). Study 3-4 replicated fascination as a mediator of the nature-PA link and also eliminated two other potential mediators - mindfulness (Study 3) and heart rate variability as a physiological indicator (Study 4). After establishing fascination as the standard mediator which explains how nature may influence positive affect (PA), Study 5 investigated several other potential factors which together mediated the nature and PA link (fascination, fluency, and savoring). Path analyses in Study 5 using multi-level structural equation modeling (MSEM) suggested that daily fascination, fluency, and savoring collectively mediated the link between nature and PA: experiencing more fascination in nature contributed to greater fluency in nature, and this fascination-fluency circuit enhanced the experience of savoring, contributing to increases in daily PA. Overall, the results across all five studies confirmed the positive relationship between nature and PA in daily life, and suggested that the cognitive quality of experiences in nature (fascination and fluency) and emotion regulation following nature (savoring) may explain why people feel happier after spending time in nature. In the General Discussion, I discuss these findings and the contribution made by this thesis to the literature on nature and emotional well-being.
Advisor: Conner, Tamlin
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: nature; nature experience; fascination; fluency; savoring; attention restoration; emotion regulation; positive affect
Research Type: Thesis