We are regularly told that spending time in nature is good for us. The extent of the link between nature and wellbeing is apparently so strong that the Wildlife Trusts are currently campaigning for ‘a Nature and Wellbeing Act for England’. Capaldi et al. argue (2015) that ‘evidence suggests that connecting with nature is one path to flourishing in life’ and that spending time in nature is therefore a ‘potential wellbeing intervention’. Other studies have similarly explored themes such as ‘the health benefits of contact with nature in a park context’ or the value of ‘green exercise’ as a wellbeing tool. Many of these studies provide evidence to support a general idea that nature is ‘good for us’. Yet, their construction of ‘nature’ is often broad and definitions of wellbeing typically loose. What exactly is it about ‘nature’ that improves our ‘wellbeing’? What do these two terms actually mean to people?
Many of the links between wellbeing and nature relate to walking and activity, but many others are based on an idea that merely ‘being in nature’ can be good for body and soul. This perceived connection between ‘being in nature’ and wellbeing has a long social and cultural history, yet is rarely critically examined. In wellbeing literature, the value of nature is often understood in terms of ‘green spaces’ or attractive landscapes. In hospitals, nature is often introduced through pictures of landscapes or artificial plants. Such frameworks implicitly assume that the value of nature for wellbeing is inextricably linked to the ability to see it, and they often treat ‘nature’ as homogeneous. What if we remove the visual, and focus on the smells, tastes or sounds of nature? What if we immerse people in unfamiliar or ‘wild’ natural sensescapes? Does everybody associate the same sensory aspects of nature with wellbeing, or are the relationships more diverse and complex? We will use emerging immersive 360-degree sound and smell technologies to explore some of these questions.
This project is funded by an AHRC / EPSRC Immersive Experiences development grant. It is a collaboration between:
- Dr Victoria Bates, Lecturer in Modern History, University of Bristol
- Dr Kirsten Cater, Reader in Human Computer Interaction, University of Bristol
- Dr Clare Hickman, Lecturer in History, University of Chester
- Ronald Ligtenberg, Skyway Programs CIC / Possibilize.
- Dr Helen Manchester, Lecturer in Educational and Social Futures, University of Bristol
- Dr Jonathan Prior, Lecturer in Human Geography, Cardiff University
- Stephanie Singer, Artist and Composer, BitterSuite and Open Senses