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Research

Since the 1970s and 1980s, a growing theme has been developing in the fields of psychology, biology, and related disciplines that has linked man’s innate attraction to nature with measurable physiological and psychological responses. Studies have found numerous physiological mechanisms by which these responses are mediated.  The findings of these studies are already being employed by greater emphasis placed on incorporating natural design elements, views of nature, daylighting, and access to plants into buildings.

 

The entire community can gain from the building of a Biodome. Better views of greenery are associated with a 50% improvement in creativity [1].  Research shows the restorative functions of nature for mental health include stress reduction  [2, 3], improved mood, and cognitive function gains [4]. The efficacy of an hour walk in an arboretum is on par with today’s pharmaceutical interventions for major depression [5]. For employees, studies have shown improved work performance is associated with natural views as well as a decrease in use of sick time [6]. Easy access to the Biodome will help foster a happier workplace culture and increase employee morale.

 

This iconic facility offers research potential in numerous fields.  For social science, utilizing the vertically integrated age population present in the Biodome while focusing on the effects of interacting with nature could help determine the factors in social cohesion or information flows within diverse groups.  In medical/psychological research, investigating health benefits could underwrite years of studies. For green technology, public response to firsthand experience could hone appeal or enhance adoption.

 

The following is a collection of research studies, scholarly articles and technical reports that highlight the current body of knowledge on human interaction with nature into four major categories: Physical/Mental Health, Education, Economic and Social Science.

 

Physical and Mental Health

Nature effects our physical health and mental status dramatically.

 

Seeing trees can change the course of post-operative recovery from surgery.  Just viewing nature through a window had profound effects, decreasing the need for potent painkillers and shorting the postoperative stay.  The 1984 study by Roger Ulrich [7] in a Pennsylvania hospital documented such significant effects the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations upgraded their specifications for hospital construction to assess the view of the grounds that a patient could see laying flat in their bed.

 

In the study, 23 pairs of carefully matched gallbladder surgery patients were given either rooms with a view of a copse of trees or the view of a brick wall of an adjacent wing of the hospital after surgery.  The post-operative stay was shortened by three quarters of a day for the tree viewers to 8 days. The profile of decreasing need for painkillers is summarized in the table below.

The trees and bushes in our daily environment contribute to our health and longevity.  This was shown in the 2013 USDA Study on the effects on local residents of the disappearance of 100 million ash trees in Michigan and the Midwest region [8].  In the six-year period of this study the residents of the upper class neighborhoods most affected by the tree’s disappearance showed a significant increase (10%) of mortality above baseline expectations drawn from the previous decade’s fatality statistics in those locales.  Mortality from lower respiratory infections exceeded expectations by 6100 and was considered a proxy indicator of the air cleaning services the lost trees had provided. Deaths from cardiac arrest jumped up 15,000 and were considered an indication of the stress relief that the more greened environment had provided.  This work was done with satellite imagery and county-by-county gridded analysis used to correlate the morbidity data collected by the county health services with the loss of tree cover as the emerald ash borer infestation spread.

 

Time spent in beautiful natural environments uplifts and inspires us.  The depth to which nature can provide relief has been documented in a recent study on major depression sufferers.  In this study, participants either walked for an hour in the Arboretum in Ann Arbor, Michigan or down one of its busy streets [5]. Previously, they had been tested for affect, mood and short-term memory. When they started off they were told to consider an intense, unresolved negative personal experience.  Each group of 10 took the other route on the subsequent session, thus providing an internal control. After their excursion the participants were tested for their post walk condition. Those who had taken the wooded stroll showed a 50% increase in short-term memory and a mood and affect better than their initial condition, even though they had been provoked to consider dark events of the past. Those who had taken the route down the city streets returned in a negative mood and showed no cognitive performance improvements. The effects shown for the walk in the Arboretum were so significant that the authors suggest nature time would be a viable supplement or alternative to today’s pharmaceutical treatments for major depression.

Our response to nature is so deeply ingrained in us that even an audiovisual presentation can evoke rapid changes in our physiological state [9].  After a 10-minute stressor period of a graphic accident injury movie, 120 undergraduate volunteers received three different follow-up presentation experiences, either nature scenes of pasture, woodland edge and flowing stream, or a sedate pedestrian mall or heavily trafficked streets in a business district. Those viewing the natural scenes showed an 80% recovery toward the pre-experimental unstressed baselines in only four minutes. Their heart rate, muscle tension and involuntary sweating continued to decline by 95% toward pre-stressed levels in the next three minutes.  In contrast, those in the traffic group showed no decrease in heart rate in the next 10 minutes and only a 50% decrease in muscle tension and sweating. The pedestrian mall group showed similar results as the traffic group except their heart rate also slowed 50% from peak elevation along with the other physiological measures. We are keyed to nature providing a restful environment and respond quickly to those influences, but urban built environments do not offer this respite.

Forest/ Nature Therapy (Shinrin-Yoku) has expanded greatly in Japan, Korea, China and transcontinental Asia.  Cultural practices sympathetic to natural engagement through the five senses have resurfaced as a pivotal part of preventative health care and healing medicine [10].  In a systematic review of 72 research studies, positive impacts were seen in lowered blood pressure, improved immune function, reduced stress, decreased anxiety and relieved depression.  Analysis of research papers relating to disease states found improved management of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.

Some earlier studies’ sample sizes were small or had gender biases, which are constraints to their findings being extrapolated to the general public.  Randomized control trials with an eye on gender parity have been done subsequently, though more longitudinal research conducted worldwide is still needed.

The review’s strongest conclusion is the efficacy of Nature Therapy as a health promotion method to directly intervene in modern-day “technostress”.

 

Education

One particularly extensive study conducted by the Heschong Mahone Group (a construction consulting agency) studied the effects of indoor lighting, classroom window views, and other classroom characteristics on the quality of learning [11]. Analyzing the standardized test performance of over 8,000 elementary and middle school students in the Fresno Unified School District, researchers found that students whose classrooms had views of nature outside had better scores on the order of 10%.

 

A similar study conducted by a worldwide coalition of environmental scientists studied the effects of exposure to green space on the cognitive development of 2,593 students in Barcelona [12]. Over the course of a 12 month period, students in the second to fourth grade were tested on inattentiveness and working memory in a series of four standardized tests. Researchers measured the exposure of students to nature using satellite imagery of the surrounding areas of the home and school to develop an index of vegetation. Comparing this index to test performance, researchers found enhanced working memory and reduced inattentiveness in students with a high index of vegetation in surroundings compared to the performance of schoolchildren with a low index of vegetation.

 

While these studies have found positive relationships between exposure to nature and school performance, nature alone in school environments may not lead to improvements in learning. In a study of 404 Chicago public schools, researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) found highly mixed results when they studied the relationship between vegetation around schools and student standardized test performance [13]. While researchers found that some students did demonstrate better performance with increased exposure to nature, they also found statistically significant negative relationships between nature and classroom performance in other students - particularly in students in low-vegetation, high-disadvantaged schools. The discrepancies between groups that demonstrated a positive relationship between nature and classroom performance and those demonstrating a negative relationship rested on the socioeconomic state of the school which thereby affected the quality of vegetation surrounding the school.

 

Like the UIUC study, a multitude of studies acknowledge a number of external factors that act as moderating factors in the relationship between nature and student test performance. In the case of the study conducted in Barcelona, researchers noted the significant impact of air quality on the student’s performance in cognitive tests. In the case of the study conducted by the Heschong Mahone Group, researchers posited that daylighting - supported by aesthetically preferred views of nature - was the primary factor behind improved test performance. While there are countless other contending environmental factors that influence the classroom, incorporating nature into the school environment still serves as an important factor for improving the classroom environment.

 

The benefits resulting from increased access to nature are not always easily elucidated from standardized test scores. In a study conducted by Swedish researchers Emilia Fagerstam and Jonas Blom in 2012, there was no difference in overall understanding of course material between a group of students that studied a biology course in an outdoor environment and a group of students that studied the same course indoors [14]. Despite the lack of association between improved test performance and access to nature, researchers did find positive effects in the form of increased long-term knowledge retention and better student-teacher interaction. A similar study conducted by Kuo et al. found significant improvements in classroom engagement on the order of a full standard deviation between students taught a lesson in nature and students taught the same lesson indoors [15]. Such studies show how increased access to nature in learning environments can lead to improvements in other key metrics of a quality learning environment that cannot be simply distilled to standardized test performance.

 

Research by Wells & Evans (2003) has demonstrated that exposure to natural environments can be a buffer to life stresses [2]. The researchers assessed children’s self-worth, psychological well-being, and history of stressful life events by surveying the children and their mothers. When comparing the results of these surveys against a naturalness scale of their homes, children with greater home naturalness showed reduced psychological stress at every level of past life stress, and showed less increase in psychological distress with the same increase in stressful life events. This suggests that providing a more natural environment is an effective way to reduce the negative psychological impacts of stressful events.

 

Economic

Over the last few decades, researchers have begun to develop models to calculate the economic benefits caused by the psychological and physiological effects of increased access to nature. While this field of study is still in its nascent stage, significant developments have been made in the area of healthcare and labor economics that have spurred innovation to improve society as a whole.

 

In 2003, the California Energy Commision sponsored a report prepared by the Heschong Mahone Group to study the effects various aspects of the workplace environment at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District [16]. In one portion of the study, researchers measured call center performance of 100 employees with respect to various workplace environmental factors. In the second portion of the study, researchers compared cognitive assessment performance of 200 employees with the same workplace environmental factors. In both tests, researchers found that an ample and pleasant view was associated with better work performance. Call center employees with the best possible view demonstrated a 7% to 12% increase in call processing rates over employees with no view. Office workers with the best possible view were found to perform 10% to 25% better on cognitive assessment tests compared employees with no view.  Computer programmers with views spent 15% more time on their primary task, while equivalent workers without views spent 15% more time talking on the phone or to one another. An annual productivity savings of approximately $3,000 per employees was realized when management of the call center invested $1,000 per employee to rearrange employees’ workstations to allow better access to views of nature.

 

In another similar study, Ihab M.K. Elzeyadi, Ph.D. LEED AP studied the effects of lighting quality and quality of views on the number of sick-days taken by employees at a University of Oregon office facility [6]. Over a two-year period, researchers found that workers with little to no views of nature were absent up to 16% more than individuals with access to views of nature.

 

The growing evidence of improved employee health from biophilic design elements in buildings has lead to a resurgence in the incorporation of better views of nature and greater utilization of nature motifs in new building constructions. Following the landmark investigation on the effect of views of nature on the length of postoperative patient stays by Ulrich R.S. in 1984, hospitals have been championing the incorporation of biophilic design elements into building design. Using data collected by Machlin and Carper, researchers at the Terrapin Bright Green Institute calculated a nationwide savings of over $93 million per year due to reduced hospital stays following major surgery could be derived from the incorporation of theses biophilic design elements [17].

 

Social

Social science research has shown for a long time that local nature characteristics are very important to neighborhood satisfaction and growth of community integration [18]. Work in public housing developments consistently showed spaces with trees attracted larger groups of people and more mixed groups of youths and adults compared to spaces devoid of nature. More dense groupings of trees close to the building also attracted larger groups and these provided more opportunities for engaging neighbors and developing a sense of community [19].  

Subtle qualities of social consciousness are harder to quantify and document.  A study on nature exposure found viewing the BBC’s Planet Earth and other nature versus built videos raised both cooperative and sustainable behavior significantly in three different experimental designs.  In the post-viewing simulated cooperative fish harvesting game, the population crash of fish stocks was prevented 20% longer by the nature-viewing group. In all three sub-studies nature exposure promoted cooperative decision making, even absent an environmental context in the last study design [20].

By viewing nature settings in slides and plant-filled testing spaces a collection of 4 sub-studies showed that positive aspirations toward personal growth, intimacy and community were increased while extrinsic values favoring money, image and fame seeking were decreased [21].  Immersion was a significant component in the magnitude of the results: low immersion modified the preferences for the different value states little, while high immersion caused measurable changes. Nature immersion strongly augmented the positive aspirations while also greatly diminishing the extrinsic aspirations.  Immersion in cityscapes and buildings induced a large increase in extrinsic aspirations, but did not greatly decrease the positive, intrinsic aspirations, so the effect was not symmetrical. Along with stated values, the latter two studies tested generosity as well. They found nature-exposed participants were 10 to 20% more generous with real money in small amounts than the built environment subjects.

           “Overall, these results are interesting because they suggest that

           nature, which is inherently unrelated to human intervention, brings

           individuals closer to each other, whereas human-made environments

           orient goals toward more selfish or self-interested ends...”

 

Nature enhances social values and social experience. Children who have greater outdoor access have been found to have more than twice as many playmates and friends [22]. In a survey of 437 students, the forest parks of Zurich provided approximately half of the places students noted they made friends outside of school, and these interactions were more significant for initiating cross culture friendships [23].

In a large literature review in Behavioral Science, the author noted that higher accessibility to park/forest-like areas correlate with lower stress, anger, depression, and tension, while fostering greater happiness, improved mood and concentration [24].  

We’ve given research examples of these in numerous instances above.  All of these would impact the condition of the individual and the ensuing social interactions, while the green spaces themselves attract people and facilitate engagement.  Our social milieu needs rich vibrant nature as much as we do individually.

 

Cultural Transformation through Nature and Placemaking

Placemaking, sense of place, and the third place are all recent expositions on social engineering creating functional spaces to draw people together and enrich their communal interactions and daily lives.  These places feature accessibility, inclusiveness, equality, and activities that foster sociability, conversation and engagement.

The Biodome’s interior is designed to be multiple ‘places’ within: scenic perches for perspective, quiet niche’s for reflection, places for shared experiences and information events. Encouraging daily activities while nestled in subtle natural cues. Specifically targeted to learning about nature’s value in itself and its importance for individual mental stability, the Biodome will seek to highlight for conscious consideration the benefits of nature as people experience it firsthand, engendering a transformative outcome for all who gravitate there.  Thereby enhancing the possibility that society’s path forward could be inspired to keep a better balance with the rest of the life on this planet.

From the research illuminated above, enlarging social networks and initiating cross-cultural connections are facilitated by natural surroundings.  In those environments people relax and are more sociable and outgoing. Feeling the physical benefits of nature, along with the camaraderie, opens a unique opportunity for absorbing information and building consensus.  Using that interactivity, accompanied with information boards, self-learning materials, talks and presentations, issues relating to the environment, social justice, and future technological directions can be displayed to engage people.

Building infrastructure that are gathering places designed to cultivate an intelligent, caring populace, placing emphasis on a segment of society that has vision and community values, will offer us all a brighter future by being a platform for social activism and cultural transformation.

 

References

Format: Author, second author, (Year). Title. Journal, Volume(Issue), pages

[1] R. A. Atchley, D. L. Strayer, P. Atchley. (2012) Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning Through immersion in Natural Settings. PLoS ONE, vol. 7 no. 12 published online, e51474.

[2] Wells, Nancy, Evans, Gary (2003). Nearby Nature: A Buffer of Life Stress Among Rural Children. Environment and Behavior, 25(3), 311-330.

[3]  Honeyman, M. (1990). Vegetation and stress: A comparison study of varying amounts of

vegetation in countryside and urban scenes. In The Role of Horticulture in

Human Well-Being and Social Development: A National Symposium. D. Relf,

[4] Berman, Marc G., Jonides, J, Kaplan, S., (2008). The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature. SAGE Association for Psychological Science, 19, 1207-1212.

[5] Berman, MG, Kross E, Krpan, KM, Askren, MK, Burson, A., Deldin, PJ, Kaplan, S, Sherdell, L, Gotlib, IH, Jonides,  (2012). Interacting with Nature Improves Cognition and Affect for individuals with depression. J Affect. Disorders 140(3), 300-305.

[6] Elzeyadi, Ihab (2011). Daylighting-Bias and Biophilia: Quantifying the Impact of Daylighting on Occupants Health. University of Oregon.

[7] Ulrich, Roger (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 4647, 420-421.

[8] Donavan, GH, Butry, DT, Michael, YL, Prestermon, JP, Liebhold AM, Gratziolis D, Mao, MY (2013). The relationship between trees and human health: evidence from the spread of the emerald ash borer. Am J Prev Med, 44(2), 139-145.

[9] Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M. A. & Zelson, M.  (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 201-230.

[10] Hansen, Margaret, Jones, Reo, Tocchini, Kirsten (2017). Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 14(8), 851.

[11] Heschong, Lisa (1999). Daylighting in Schools: An Investigation into the Relationship between Daylighting and Human Performance. Detailed Report.

[12] Dadvand, Payam, Nieuwenhuijsen, Mark, Esnaola, Mikel, Forns, Joan, Basagana, Xavier, Alvarez-Pedrerol, Mar, Rivas, Ioar, Lopez-Vicente, Monica, De Castro Pascual, Montserrat, Su, Jason, Jerrett, Michael, Querol, Zavier, Sunyer, Jordi (2015). Green spaces and cognitive development in primary schoolchildren. PNAS. 112(26), 7937-7942.

[13] Browning, Matthew, Kuo, Ming, Sachdeva, Sonya, Lee, Kangjae (2018). Greenness and school-wide test scores are not always positively associated – A replication of “linking student performance in Massachusetts elementary schools with the ‘greenness’ of school surroundings using remote sensing”. Landscape and Urban Planning, 178, 69-71.

[14] Fagerstam, Emilia, Blom, Jonas (2012). Learning biology and mathematics outdoors: effects and attitudes in a Swedish high school context. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 13(1), 56-75.

[15] Kuo, Ming, Browning, Matthew, Penner, Milbert (2018). Do Lessons in Nature Boost Subsequent Classroom Engagement? Refueling Students in Flight. Front Psychol, 8, 2253.

[16] Heschong, Lisa (2003). Windows and Offices: A Study of Office Worker Performance and the Indoor Environment.

[17] Browning, Bill, Garvin, Chris, Fox, Bob, Cook, Rick, Labruto, Leslie, Kallianpurkar, Namita, Ryan, Catie, Watson, Siobhan, Knop, Travis (2012). The Economics of Biophilia. Terrapin Bright Green LLC.

[18] Fried, M (1984). The Structure and Significance of Community Satisfaction. Population and Environment, 7(2), 61-86.

[19] Coley, Rebekah, Sullivan, William, Kuo, Frances (1997). Where Does Community Grow?: The Social Context Created by Nature in urban Public Housing. Environmental Design Research Association, 29(4), 468-494.

[20] Zelenski, John, Dopko, Raelyne, Capaldi, Colin (2015). Cooperation is in our nature: Nature exposure may promote cooperative and environmentally sustainable behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42, 24-31.

[21] Weinstein, Netta, Przybylski, Andrew, Ryan, Richard (2009). Can Nature Make Us More Caring? Effects of Immersion in Nature on Intrinsic Aspirations and Generosity. Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 35(10), 1315-1329.

[22] Huttenmoser, Marco (1995). Children and Their Living Surroundings: Empirical Investigations into the Significance of Living Surroundings for the Everyday Life and Development of Children. Children’s Environments, 12(4), 403-413.

[23] Seeland, Klaus, Hansmann, Ralf, Dubendorfer, Sabine (2009). Making friends in Zurich’s urban forests and parks: The role of public green space for social inclusion of youths from different cultures. Forest Policy and Economics, 11(1), 10-17.

[24] Berto, Rita (2014). The Role of Nature in Coping with Psycho-Physiological Stress: A Literature Review on Restorativeness. Behav Sci (Basel), 4(4), 394-409.