It is an undeniable fact that the natural environment positively affects individual mental health and overall wellbeing. In addition to this, nature can also be used to help change human behavior. In psychology, behavior is defined as an organism’s activities in response to external or internal stimuli.
One of the main topics of debate between psychologists is how behavior and personality are affected by nature and nurture. While disparate causes, there is a clear combination of the two that come into play. For the sake of this article, changes in human behavior will be discussed in terms of how the natural environment has an influential role in both a physical and social sense.
The influence of nature on our natural disposition
It has been long observed that certain physical attributes and genetically inherited diseases are subject to a combination of nature and the environment. For example, when looking at the habits in the animal kingdom, the domestication of certain species is due to the encouragement of domesticated behaviors. Animals with such behaviors breed with others that have adopted such behaviors, thereby bringing this into their natural processed code.
However, just because this exists in your genes does not mean all is set and determined. Natural environmental factors can profoundly affect the likelihood that an individual will acquire or not acquire the aforementioned physical and/or mental health illnesses. Certain environmental stimuli can change the expression of genes. With this, it is important to keep in mind that both positive and negative stimuli exist.
Social influences in behavior
Human behaviors are also greatly influenced by peers and social circles. When considering how nature can help change human behavior, a primary example of this is through the work of conservationists. Human beings are fundamentally social creatures and have evolved with an assortment of social behaviors. This is the primary trait that psychologists and conservationists try to exploit when trying to induct change. Current efforts in changing behavior focus on promoting or enforcing conservation behaviors through rational accounts of human behavior.
As previously mentioned, human beings are incredibly social, and humans have socially evolved through the implementation of two mechanisms – peer pressure and social proof. Recent studies in cultural and social psychology have illustrated that these two mechanisms play an important role in combating environmentally damaging behaviors, serving as a powerful motivator for individuals to act.
Using nature to change behavior
We can see that there are several components to influencing individual behavior. From an individual’s genetic disposition to the social environment around us, what we surround ourselves with can affect how we see and feel things.
As such, putting ourselves in a position where the natural environment — from green walls to open, light spaces — can definitely change our behavior for the better. There have been countless studies that demonstrate the benefits of horticultural activity.
Habits like gardening or even simply decorating our homes with biophilic design can do wonders for our behaviors: from enhancing productivity to reducing anxiety and depression. The more we learn to adopt these best practices in biophilia, the closer we can get to make the most out of our natural behaviors.