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An exploration of the relationships between adults' childhood and current nature exposure and their mental well-being

Summary


Childhood nature exposure is related to adult mental well-being to the extent that it promotes adult nature exposure

Two studies – one conducted in Australia and one in Germany – investigated the relationships between adults’ childhood and current nature exposure and their mental well-being as adults. Both studies used self-report measures and focused on a young adult population (ages 19-40).

For Study 1, 646 Australians completed an online questionnaire which included demographic questions of age and gender, the Childhood and Current Natural Environments Exposure Scales, and three mental well-being scales. The results of this study suggest that nature exposure in childhood relates to mental well-being later in life in an indirect way – that is, through the positive relation between childhood and adult nature exposure. Data analysis indicated that once removing the more immediate effects of current nature exposure, the lasting effects of childhood nature exposure were, for the most part, unable to be demonstrated.

The aim of Study 2 was to replicate the findings of Study 1 in a different population and to investigate ways in which nature exposure may influence mental well-being. Possible nature-related differences between the Australian and German populations include accessibility to natural environments and differing views and values toward the natural environment. Some research suggests that while Germans tend to have romantic and moralistic views towards the natural environment, Australians hold instrumental values toward nature. Additionally, Germany is more densely populated than Australia possibly making access to natural environments more challenging for people living in Germany.

For Study 2, 141 participants completed a pen-and-paper version of the survey used in Study 1, with the addition of two measures of connectedness to nature and a measure of ecological behaviors. As in Study 1, the results of this study indicate that adults’ current nature exposure has a greater influence on current mental well-being than childhood nature exposure. Also consistent with Study 1 is the finding that childhood nature exposure is a predictor of adults’ preferences for exposure to nature. Additional findings of Study 2 indicate that childhood nature exposure can positively influence both connectedness to nature and ecological behavior.

These two studies together, by finding positive relationships between current nature exposure and mental well-being, suggest that humans—regardless of values, preferences and general availability of natural environments—derive positive benefits from nature exposure. This research also suggests that the reason why nature exposure promotes mental well-being and positive ecological behaviors is because such exposure increases connectedness to nature. This study also suggests that childhood nature exposure is related to adult mental well-being to the extent that it promotes adult nature exposure.

Citation

Pensini, P., Horn, E., Caltabiano, N.J., (2016). An exploration of the relationships between adults' childhood and current nature exposure and their mental well-being. Children, Youth and Environments, 26(1), 125-147.

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