Toward a social ecology of prosociality: Why, when, and where nature enhances social connection
Nature exposure can enhance social connections
Studies in social psychology document ways in which the social environment influences people’s behaviors. This brief review of the literature addressed ways in which nature – an “asocial” environment -- might influence prosocial behavior and social connections.
A growing body of evidence supports the idea that exposure to nature can enhance social connection and solidarity. Specific pro-social behaviors linked to exposure to nature include greater orientation to others and increased sensitivity to the needs of others. Research also shows that urban greenspace is associated with increased perceptions of social cohesiveness in one’s neighborhood and volunteering. Studies involving young children show that they tend to exhibit more prosocial and fewer behavior concerns when they are connected and engaged with nature. Feelings of being connected to nature are also linked to enhanced perspective taking. Some experimental studies show that even exposure to images of nature can influence people’s willingness to help others.
The experience of awe and perceptions of beauty were identified as two psychological processes that, in part, influence the effects of nature on prosociality. Awe involves feelings of wonder and amazement and is often inspired by encounters with nature, especially in Western societies. Studies show that awe-inspiring encounters with nature can foster prosocial behaviors. Selected studies also found that perceptions of beauty in nature can foster increased positivity and social connection. Environmental decline and people’s decreasing exposure to nature may, thus, have a negative impact on the way people relate to each other.
Recommendations for future research include investigating how enduring the effects of nature exposure are and how this might vary based on the type of nature to which one is exposed. The authors identified three central areas as “particularly pressing and promising in guiding future research on nature’s effects upon the social realm: pro-environmentalism, environmental decline, and technological advancement.” Such research, they suggest, may increase socioecological understandings of people’s relationship to nature and the many benefits associated with nature engagement.