How does nature exposure make people healthier? Evidence for the role of impulsivity and expanded space perception

Meredith A. Repke, Meredith S. Berry, Lucian G. Conway, Alexander Metcalf, Reid M. Hensen, Conor Phelan

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35 Scopus citations


Nature exposure has been linked to a plethora of health benefits, but the mechanism for this effect is not well understood. We conducted two studies to test a new model linking the health benefits of nature exposure to reduced impulsivity in decision-making (as measured by delay discounting) via psychologically expanding space perception. In study 1 we collected a nationwide U.S. sample (n = 609) to determine whether nature exposure was predictive of health outcomes and whether impulsive decision-making mediated the effect. Results indicated that Nature Accessibility and Nature Exposure From Home significantly predicted reduced scores on the Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scales (DASS) (p < .001, p = .03, respectively) and improved general health and wellbeing (p < .001, p < .01, respectively). Nature Accessibility also predicted reduced impulsive decision-making (p < .01), and Nature Accessibility showed significant indirect effects through impulsive decision-making on both the DASS (p = .02) and general health and wellbeing (p = .04). In Study 2, a lab-based paradigm found that nature exposure expanded space perception (p < .001), and while the indirect effect of nature exposure through space perception on impulsive decision-making did not meet conventional standards of significance (p < .10), the pattern was consistent with hypotheses. This combination of ecologically-valid and experimental methods offers promising support for an impulsivity-focused model explaining the nature-health relationship.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0202246
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2018


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