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Title: What is survivability and how does perceived survivability of a natural environment impact affect and stress levels?
Author: Hodson, Philippa
ISNI:       0000 0004 7972 3083
Awarding Body: University of Surrey
Current Institution: University of Surrey
Date of Award: 2019
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Empirical Paper. Objective: Exposure to nature has been found to improve mental wellbeing. Biophilia suggests because we evolved with nature, natural features that supported survival are perceived positively. Stress Reduction Theory proposes these features subconsciously reduce stress and improve affect. However, little research has investigated whether features being perceived as survivable is actually necessary for improvements to occur. Study 1 explored which features of a natural environment affect people's perceptions of how survivable it is. Study 2 aimed to operationalise this to investigate the impact of differentially survivable nature on stress and affect. Restoration ratings were also compared to explore whether survivability may be important in Attention Restoration Theory. Design: Study 1: A focus group with a card sorting task. Study 2: a between-subjects design with three conditions: high survivability nature, low survivability nature and urban scenes. Participants: Study 1: A self-selected sample of twelve people aged 18-54 (1 male). Study 2: A self-selected sample of 111 people aged 18-81 (87 female). Results/Findings: Study 1 discovered twelve themes of environmental factors that impact perceptions of survivability. Study 2: survivability had a significant positive impact on stress and positive affect scores but not on negative affect scores. Survivability also had a significant impact on some ratings of the perceived restorativeness of the environments. Conclusions: The results suggest nature should contain features indicative of survival to reduce reported stress and possibly improve positive affect. Such features include water, visibility and refuge opportunities. Survivability may also play some role in ratings of perceived restorativeness. Implications: It seems not all nature is equal when it comes to improving mental wellbeing. If planning therapeutic interventions involving nature, particularly for improving stress and positive affect, it may be important to consider utilising nature that has high levels of the factors found here that increase perceptions of survivability. Literature Review. We live in an increasingly urbanised society with decreasing contact with nature. Much research suggests contact with nature has a positive impact on our mental wellbeing. There is evidence that incorporating nature into therapy can have positive outcomes for various populations. This systematic literature review aimed to investigate: how Psychologists are currently incorporating nature in therapy, the patient groups they are using it with and the efficacy of such interventions. Nine papers were found that incorporated nature into psychological therapy and spanned four intervention types: Wilderness Therapy, Horticultural Therapy, Nature Based Therapy and Forest Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Commonly, the role of Psychologists was to deliver psychological therapy in outdoor nature settings alongside other professionals who supported people to actively take part in activities that involved engaging with nature. The exception was Horticultural therapy where traditional talking therapy was not incorporated and the Psychologists' therapeutic engagement was predominantly planning or supporting people to engage in horticultural tasks. The research studies included here were carried out with young people experiencing psychological distress, adults with chronic schizophrenia, depression, stress-related illnesses and veterans with PTSD. Positive short-term effects for interventions that incorporated nature into therapy were found although the quality of the small research base was medium to low. Study designs meant the direct effect of nature in the therapeutic process could not be drawn out. At present there is not enough evidence to impact therapy guidelines, but the findings suggest incorporating nature into practice is something Psychologists should consider and research further.
Supervisor: Gatersleben, Birgitta Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Psych.) Qualification Level: Doctoral