Previous research shows that spending time in nature may offer psychological benefits, such as better concentration and mood (Berman, Jonides & Kaplan, 2008) and a greater sense of connection with the natural world (Mayer, Frantz, Bruehlman-Senecal, & Dolliver, 2008). These benefits have been displayed over a range of different nature experiences, from wild outdoor camping experiences, to walks through an urban park. Attentional engagement and awareness in nature have been examined in several studies, alongside psychological benefits of nature, with a growing evidence base that suggests cognitive engagement is linked with psychological restoration (Duvall, 2010; Lin, Tsai, Sullivan, & Chang, 2014) and connection with nature (Lumber, Richardson & Sheffield, 2015). Mindfulness is one form of engaging with nature that has been tested in some empirical studies on nature experiences (Nisbet, Zelenski & Grandpierre, 2019; Lymeus, Lindberg & Hartig, 2017). However, the existing literature lacks a strong theoretical understanding of associations between mindfulness and better psychological outcomes of nature experiences; and previous studies have only examined these links in nature-rich, highly restorative environments. To better understand how and in which circumstances engagement in nature leads to better outcomes, it is important to examine engagement in a variety of nature settings, including constrained urban environments, and identify key mechanisms.
Research Questions / Hypotheses
In this study we aim to explore whether level of cognitive engagement in nature can overcome the constraints of an urban environment in supporting psychological restoration and connection with nature. Further, we aim to identify the mindfulness mechanisms that are involved in these processes.
68 REP participants completed the study. Inclusion criteria were age over 18 years old, currently working or studying, and has access to a smartphone and computer (or tablet with keyboard).
Participants completed an online survey (pre- and post-test) and a 20-minute outdoor experience. The pre-test survey comprised of demographic questions, measures of wellbeing, trait mindfulness, trait connection with nature, mood, and an attention task – the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART). The 20-minute outdoor experience involved spending time in an outdoor environment around the work/study place – for many participants, this was the home environment while working or studying from home. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four intervention groups: Mindful engagement; comparison engagement; mind wandering; self-guided control. Participants in the first three conditions received a written intervention during an outdoor experience (delivered via a video on their smartphone), and the fourth condition (self-guided control) received no intervention during their outdoor experience. The post-test survey included a second session of the SART, and state measures of connection with nature, mindfulness, and mood, and measures of environmental characteristics.
Using separate ANOVAs, we will examine whether the intervention had an effect on attention performance, nature connection and mood. We expect that intervention condition will have an effect on wellbeing outcomes of the nature experience: participants in the mindful engagement group will have the greatest benefits overall, and the comparison engagement and mind wandering groups will have a greater benefit than the control group. We will use a series of mediation analyses to determine whether the effect of the intervention on outcome variables (nature connection, mood, attention performance) was due to the level of state mindfulness during the nature experience. We expect to find that state mindfulness does mediate the relationship between intervention condition and outcomes. We plan to analyse the contributions of the state mindfulness mechanisms with a parallel mediation model, where the factors in the state mindfulness scale are treated as separate but correlated dimensions that mediate the relationship between intervention group and outcome variables.
We predict that the level of cognitive engagement in nature will impact wellbeing outcomes of the nature experience. This builds on previous literature showing similar outcomes, although in this study we extend the literature by examining this form of intervention in more constrained, and urban settings. The exploration of the mindfulness mechanisms that underpin higher cognitive engagement and wellbeing outcomes has important theoretical implications. With these expected findings, we develop a stronger theoretical model of engagement in nature experiences, leading to more robust empirical designs and interpretation of findings. Results will be communicated in a PhD thesis, and we also plan to publish results in a journal article.