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Is nature relatedness a basic human psychological need? A critical examination of the extant literature


Humans have a basic psychological need for nature relatedness

This investigation aimed to determine if nature relatedness meets the criteria for being a basic human psychological need. Two categories of psychological need are discussed: “needs as requirements” and “needs as motives.” “Needs as requirements” refer to psychological needs which must be met for a human being to achieve sufficient levels of well-being and to promote growth. “Needs as motives” refer to “a form of motivation that compels individuals to pursue certain incentives or goals.”

This investigation draws from peer-reviewed journals from a variety of scientific disciplines, with an emphasis on experimental or quasi-experimental studies. This literature outlines nine criteria for determining if something qualifies as a basic psychological need. While all nine of these criteria are considered in this investigation, the evidence is divided into two sections based on needs-as-requirements and needs-as-motives. Evidence presented in the first section — which focuses on needs-as-requirements — demonstrates ways in which nature relatedness meets five of the nine criteria. Nature relatedness (1) has positive affective consequences when satisfied, and negative affective consequences when thwarted, (2) promotes health, development and/or well-being when satisfied, (3) leads to ill-effects when thwarted, (4) is universal in that it is not culturally dependent, and (5) is not derived from other needs or motives. Evidence presented in the second section — which focuses on needs-as-motives – demonstrates ways in which nature relatedness meets three of the other four criteria. Nature relatedness (6) directs cognitive processing, (7) affects a variety of behaviors, and (8) occurs in a wide variety of settings. The ninth criterion, “eliciting goal-oriented behavior,” needs further validation to be fully supported. Yet, the over-all findings of this investigation provide strong support for the premise that nature relatedness is a basic psychological need for humans.

This review also shows that nature relatedness has a positive impact on human health and functioning. This positive impact is noted in three major areas: stress-related physiology and recovery, psychological well-being, and cognitive recovery from response inhibition and attentional fatigue. The effect of nature relatedness on the decrease of negative affect is not as strong as the effect on positive affect.

This investigation amply supports nature relatedness as a need-as-requirement, and mostly supports the proposed need as a need-as-motive. Recognizing nature relatedness as a basic psychological need should be of interest to policy makers and practitioners in a variety of professions.


Baxter, D.E., Pelletier, L.G., (2018). Is nature relatedness a basic human psychological need? A critical examination of the extant literature. Canadian Psychology, 60(1), 21-34.


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