By Rachel C. Sumner, Marica Cassarino, Samantha Dockray, Annalisa Setti and Diane M. Crone
We all know that interacting with nature is good for you, right? Well, according to science: yes and no. Whilst a common-sense approach would say that being in nature provides a variety of benefits, the huge amount of research done over the years has had mixed results. Sometimes figuring out if nature is good for you depends on what outcome is being looked at (heart health, levels of biological stress, or general mental wellbeing, for example), but sometimes it may depend on the type of nature one is exposed to (a potted plant or a wild forest), and how it is being used. With the growth of nature-based interventions to support human health and wellbeing it is becoming increasingly important to understand what about nature may (or may not) be effective for whom, and under what circumstances.
In this perspective, we take the viewpoint of Psychopharmacology, a field of medicine that focuses on how drugs take effect in the brain, to try and deconstruct the potential human benefit from nature. Psychopharmacology teaches us that the effect of a drug depends not only on how much of the drug is administered, but also how it gets to where it is needed, a concept referred to as bioavailability. Translating this into people-nature interactions, the use of a bioavailability approach requires understanding the various factors that influence drug (nature) effects: how it is administered (how people interact with nature) and its concentration (level of immersion in nature), to then allow us to come up with an ideal dose.
We propose that merely being put in a nature context will not necessarily confer beneficial effect, and likely not have consistent effects across all people and at all times. Therefore, if we want to prescribe nature for better health, we need to consider that a wide variety of individual and contextual factors can impact the interaction between people and nature. Through this approach we hope that future research in the area may be able to better understand the variance in response to nature, and work towards being able to provide targeted nature-based interventions.