Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Is Nature Relatedness a Basic Human Psychological Need? A Critical Examination of the Extant Literature

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Is Nature Relatedness a Basic Human Psychological Need? A Critical Examination of the Extant Literature

Article excerpt

The purpose of this review is to examine the support for the hypothesis that human beings have a basic psychological need to have and maintain connections with nature, and the satisfaction and frustration of this need can have important implications for human psychological and physical well-being. The hypothesis of the proposed need stems from earlier work by E. O. Wilson. Wilson (1984) proposed the biophilia hypothesis, which stated that human beings have an "innate tendency to approach life and lifelike processes" (p. 1), built on the fact that human cognitive and emotional evolution occurred almost exclusively in natural settings, and therefore our cognitive and emotional apparatuses should be most readily attuned to natural stimuli. Subsequent work spawned from the biophilia hypothesis has expanded its definition to be written as a basic human need, rather than a propensity (Hinds & Sparks, 2008; Kahn, 1997; Mayer & Frantz, 2004; Mayer, Frantz, Bruehlman-Senecal, & Dolliver, 2009; Nisbet & Zelenski, 2011, 2013; Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy, 2009, 2011). However, no article to date has ever systematically explored whether the idea of nature relatedness meets the criteria of a fundamental human psychological need, which could have widespread implications and applications if found. The purpose of the present article is to do so using the criteria established by previous theories using psychological needs as a construct, as well as the specific criteria outlined by Baumeister and Leary (1995) and Sheldon (2011).

Basic Human Psychological Needs

Recently, Sheldon (2011) proposed a two-process model of psychological needs that builds and synthesizes previous frameworks. According to Sheldon, "psychological needs are evolved tendencies to seek out certain basic types of psychosocial experiences and to feel good and thrive when those basic experiences are obtained" (p. 552). The two-process model is meant as a comprehensive framework to the old, generalised division within needs theories: that which divides "needs as motives" from "needs as requirements." With respect to the latter, needs as requirements refers to the conceptualisation of a psychological need as a necessary experiential condition in order for a human being to achieve sufficient levels of well-being, and to promote growth. Similarly, the needs as motives conceptualisation views psychological needs as a form of motivation that compels individuals to pursue certain incentives or goals, built on older drive theory models of human psychological needs. A main dividing factor between needs-as-requirements and needs-as-motives is that they happen at different points in a temporal sequence; motives are salient at the inception of an action sequence, influencing what is attempted during the sequence, whereas experiences are more salient at the conclusion of a sequence, presumably influencing the likelihood of repeating the action sequence.

Criteria for Establishing a Basic Psychological Need

Despite the longstanding history of psychological needs in scientific literature, there is actually little information that explicates how a basic human psychological need should be evidenced appropriately. For this, one of the most important sources of guidance comes from an article by Baumeister and Leary (1995). In this seminal article, Baumeister and Leary outline a comprehensive set of criteria by which to evaluate whether something qualifies as a valid psychological need, criteria which have been used by subsequent researchers (e.g., Anderson, Hildreth, & Howland, 2015; Sheldon, 2011).

A fundamental [psychological need] should (1) produce effects readily under all but adverse conditions, (2) have affective consequences, (3) direct cognitive processing, (4) lead to ill effects (such as on health and adjustment) when thwarted, (5) elicit goal-oriented behaviour designed to satisfy it . . . , (6) be universal in the sense of applying to all people, (7) not be derivative of other motives, (8) affect a broad variety of behaviours and (9) have implications that go beyond immediate psychological functioning. …

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