The critical role of nurturing environments for promoting human well-being

Am Psychol. May-Jun 2012;67(4):257-71. doi: 10.1037/a0026796.


The recent Institute of Medicine report on prevention (National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, 2009) noted the substantial interrelationship among mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders and pointed out that, to a great extent, these problems stem from a set of common conditions. However, despite the evidence, current research and practice continue to deal with the prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders as if they are unrelated and each stems from different conditions. This article proposes a framework that could accelerate progress in preventing these problems. Environments that foster successful development and prevent the development of psychological and behavioral problems are usefully characterized as nurturing environments. First, these environments minimize biologically and psychologically toxic events. Second, they teach, promote, and richly reinforce prosocial behavior, including self-regulatory behaviors and all of the skills needed to become productive adult members of society. Third, they monitor and limit opportunities for problem behavior. Fourth, they foster psychological flexibility-the ability to be mindful of one's thoughts and feelings and to act in the service of one's values even when one's thoughts and feelings discourage taking valued action. We review evidence to support this synthesis and describe the kind of public health movement that could increase the prevalence of nurturing environments and thereby contribute to the prevention of most mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. This article is one of three in a special section (see also Muñoz Beardslee, & Leykin, 2012; Yoshikawa, Aber, & Beardslee, 2012) representing an elaboration on a theme for prevention science developed by the 2009 report of the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Environment
  • Human Development*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Mental Health*
  • Public Health
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Environment*