Documenting the Intangible Effects of Nature on Human Well-being

While nature provides such necessities of life as food water and shelter, and underpins and controls the conditions in which people live, it also provides important intangible benefits. A new synthesis of multidisciplinary peer-reviewed research identifies the ways in which nature (ecosystems) contribute to well-being through intangible dimensions. Conducted by a NCEAS working group, the findings are published in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources. What this synthesis sought to discover was how ecosystems deliver crucial benefits  — and thus contribute culturally and psychologically to human well-being — in nonmaterial ways.

The study sought to bring diverse research together and to highlight gaps in our understanding of these important connections. “We hoped that we could make a first attempt at bringing together these varied and disparate pieces of research into a cohesive whole that could help demonstrate just how pervasive the intangible connections of this relationship between nature and human well-being are,” said lead author Roly Russell, of the Sandhill Institute for Complexity and Sustainability in British Columbia.

Using a conceptual framework, the nine-member research team organized the literature by delineating the four channels of experience —knowing, perceiving, interacting with, and living within — through which people connect with nature. The team then explored how those channels link to the 10  components of human well-being including: physical health, mental health, spirituality, certainty and sense of control and security, learning/capability, inspiration/fulfillment of imagination, sense of place, identity/autonomy, connectedness/belonging and subjective (overall) well-being.

“While assessing the intangible benefits we experience from nature is difficult using traditional methods, it is possible, and important,” said Frank Davis, director of NCEAS. “These findings are a significant step to developing a fuller understanding of human connectedness to nature.”

Humans and Nature: How Knowing and Experiencing Nature Affect Well-Being
Roly Russell, Anne D. Guerry, Patricia Balvanera, Rachelle K. Gould, Xavier Basurto, Kai M.A. Chan, Sarah Klain, Jordan Levine, and Jordan Tam
Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol. 38: 473 -502

UCSB Press Release


More information on the NCEAS Project: Cultural Ecosystem Services from Marine and Coastal Systems: Counting the intangibles (EBM)


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Posted on October 22, 2013