Study shows interactions with wildness in urban parks considered vital for mental wellness

The new paper was published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities.

3 min read

In countless studies, human interactions with nature have shown to induce beneficial effects on physical health and mental wellness. Although this may be the case for all forms of nature, researchers at the University of Washington found that relatively wild nature in urban parks, in particular, is considered more vital to one’s overall health.

In the new paper, as published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, the research team set out to determine how distinct kinds of nature induce different effects for humans. The team turned their attention to Discovery Park, an urban park with nearly 500 acres located in Seattle, Washington.

Over 300 park-goers were surveyed to extract usable information on their most meaningful interactions with nature in Discovery Park and establish the factors contributing most to their frequent visits. The collection of survey data occurred between June 2017 and September 2018.

“The central question of this study was whether the benefits to visitors of Discovery Park depend, in no small measure, on the park’s very size and relative wild landscape,” UW researchers stated in the findings.

“Toward addressing this question, 320 participants provided written narratives (through our web portal) about the meaningful ways in which they interacted with nature at Discovery Park. Each individual narrative was then analyzed and coded using an Interaction Pattern (IP) approach, which provides characterizations of human-nature interaction that have ontogenetic and phylogenetic significance.”

The park’s relative wildness, the focus of their research, was characterized by high levels of biodiversity, the presence of vast open spaces, and unmanaged land. Researchers examined psychological descriptions of the participants’ experiences in such landscapes, which reflect cognitive and emotional states.

In their findings, researchers uncovered 520 Interaction Patterns and also found that the park’s relative wildness was the primary cause for the meaningful interactions with nature experienced by the participants.

“Results revealed 520 Interaction Patterns (IPs). The most frequently occurring IPs clustered under the keystone IPs of Encountering Wildlife (27%), Following Trails (14%), Walking to Destination Spots in Nature (8%), Gazing out at the Puget Sound or Mountains (6%), Walking Along Edges of Beach or Bluffs (5%), and Walking with Dogs (4%),” the findings state.

“Results also revealed that visitors’ meaningful interactions with nature in Discovery Park depended on the park’s relative wildness.”

Overall, the new findings shed light on how human interaction and relatively wild urban parks affect human resilience and promote well-being from the stressors of everyday life.

“Large urban parks can provide important buffers to the stressors of city living,” the study’s co-authors stated. “Such effects have been shown in even some of the largest cities of the world, such as in New York City and Beijing, and fit within a growing body of research that show that interaction with nature benefits people physically and psychologically.”

© Image courtesy of Trip Advisor