NURTURING NATURE AND THE HUMAN PSYCHE: UNDERSTANDING THE PHYSIOLOGICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, AND SOCIAL BENEFITS OF INDOOR NATURE EXPOSURE
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A large body of literature supports the physiological, psychological, and social benefits of engaging in nature-based environments. Indoor nature exposure (INE) offers an opportunity to adapt existing built environments to include nature-based characteristics in order to replicate the experience of being outdoors. Although the integration of nature into indoor spaces is rarely considered a mechanism to support and promote health and wellbeing, it may be an effective method for increasing nature engagement and interaction in a largely urbanized world. The purpose of this dissertation was to examine the nature-health relationship by exploring facets of physiological, psychological and social health when engaging in INE. Using the properties of biophilic design and the stress-reduction theory to guide inquiry, this study examined the influence of a multi-sensory and immersive nature-based indoor environment on physiological stress, mood, and pro-social intentions and behaviours. One hundred and forty-seven (118 females) undergraduates were randomly assigned to either an experimental (indoor nature environment) or control (no nature) condition. Participants were exposed to their condition for 20 minutes. Heart rate variability (HRV) assessed physiological stress, and self-reported mood, environmental preference, nature relatedness, and individual demographics were measured. Following the completion of the study, participants were prompted to engage in a pro-social behavior. Results highlight the theoretical underpinnings (e.g., stress-reduction theory) and the individual-level factors (e.g., environmental preference and nature relatedness) that influence the nature-health relationship within indoor environments. Physiological stress markers were immediately reduced when exposed to INE regardless of an individual’s preference for nature or their surrounding environment. INE resulted in an increase in positive affect and was related to environmental preference which was influenced by individuals’ nature relatedness. Lastly, pro-social intentions and behavior showed no relationship with INE. This project was one of the first of its kind to test the use of a multiple sensory nature-based indoor environment on health outcomes, and found that INE produced similar physiological and psychological benefits as being outdoors. Results suggest that more work needs to be done to explore not only the benefits of multi-sensory INE, but also how individual-level variables influence the strength of these outcomes.