Exploring the effects of outdoor activities and connectedness with nature on cognitive styles and creativity : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
The natural environment’s potential to improve education, work, and lifestyles is receiving increasing attention by policy makers and practitioners. Psychological research has demonstrated that stress reduction, attention restoration, and increased creativity can result from exposure to nature. Such evidence notwithstanding, the precise psychological mechanisms explaining these effects remain unclear. This thesis provides a systematic examination of how contact with nature might affect humans. Four studies were conducted. Study 1 reports two meta-analyses (N = 10701, k = 100) involving: (i) 66 studies using preand post-test designs, and (ii) 32 experimental studies that include a control group. Although outdoor activities have been found overall to affect personal and social outcomes positively, there has been limited research into the effects on cognitive variables of exposure to outdoor environments. To address this gap in the literature, I aim to investigate whether contact with nature (in two dimensions–the psychological attachment to nature and the physical exposure to it) is associated with processes related to creativity (i.e., cognitive styles and divergent thinking creativity). Study 2 (N = 138) tests the relationship between connectedness with nature and cognitive styles and reports a significant positive association between connectedness with nature and both innovative and holistic thinking styles. Building on this finding, Study 3 (N = 185) not only replicates the results of Study 2 by controlling for wellbeing processes, but includes a new creativity test to examine the link between connectedness with nature and creative processes (connectedness with nature is found to be positively linked with divergent-thinking creativity). As these three studies employ cross-sectional data where causality cannot be inferred, the last study involves an experimental design. Study 4 (N = 93) manipulates active versus passive engagement with nature and examines the mediating impact of connectedness with nature on the link between outdoor activities and divergentthinking creativity. Some theoretical explanations as to how nature might affect our creativity are proposed. Potential limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed. The findings are intended to provide supporting evidence for the relationship between nature and creativity, and hopefully inform educational pedagogy and lifestyle choices likely to enhance creativity.
Listed in 2017 Dean's List of Exceptional Theses
Nature, Psychological aspects, Environmental psychology, Cognitive styles, Creative ability, Research Subject Categories::SOCIAL SCIENCES::Social sciences::Psychology::Environmental psychology, Dean's List of Exceptional Theses