Scholars spanning a variety of disciplines have studied the ways in which contact with natural environments may impact human well-being. We review the effects of such nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health, synthesizing work from environmental psychology, urban planning, the medical literature, and landscape aesthetics. We provide an overview of the prevailing explanatory theories of these effects, the ways in which exposure to nature has been considered, and the role that individuals' preferences for nature may play in the impact of the environment on psychological functioning. Drawing from the highly productive but disparate programs of research in this area, we conclude by proposing a system of categorization for different types of nature experience. We also outline key questions for future work, including further inquiry into which elements of the natural environment may have impacts on cognitive function and mental health; what the most effective type, duration, and frequency of contact may be; and what the possible neural mechanisms are that could be responsible for the documented effects.
© 2012 New York Academy of Sciences.