Wilderness, Nature, Environment, Indigenous, Ecopsychology, Outdoor,
Anthropology, Education, Adventure Therapy, Recreation Therapy,
Horticultural Therapy, Nature-guide Therapy
Related Theories: Nature is good, Garden of Eden, Biophilia,
The original theory, arguably, underlying human experience is
the notion that 'returning to nature' is good. This could
perhaps be called "Garden of Eden"
the ages, shifting from urbanized, complex environments to more natural
environments has seen as valuable for relaxing, calming, healing,
re-connecting, and strengthening human beings.
Research findings in health, medicine and psychology also appear to be supportive
of the proposition that nature has
some inherently positive effects on physical and psychological well-being
for humans (and other animals).
Two of the best known researchers in
this area are
Ulrich from Texas A&M, who has researched the effects of natural vistas
on hospital patients, and Dr. Howard S. Frumkin [Google
search for "Frumkin effects of nature], who has reviewed the research
literature on the physical health benefits of natural environments.
What seems to be lacking, however, is well-developed theory for explaining
exactly how natural environments may influence human beings. For example,
given the positive findings for viewing natural scenes (even in pictures),
can visualizing natural environments provide positive effects? Or are
there additional, benefits of real, natural environments?
The most popular, scientific-type "nature is good" hypothesis is
O. Wilson's biophilia hypothesis, which proposes that the positive
effects are due to our long evolutionary (and consequently genetic) links to
having a preference for being in natural environments. Wilson's
biophilia hypothesis has been debated and critiqued. One of the issues
appears to be that Wilson based his ideas on his study of insects and that
the idea is too simplistic to fully account for human's relations with
natural environments, since clearly humans have also shown a capacity to
adapt to artificial environments.
Nature Theory in Outdoor Education
Nature theory has been prominent in outdoor education. Three
nature-based theories of outdoor education are described below.
Can the Mountains Speak for Themselves? (Thomas
As a basis for outdoor education, the role of the natural environment has
been perhaps most insightfully articulated by Thomas James (1980), in a
classic article titled "Can the
Mountains Speak for Themselves" (see also
workshop materials on James' paper).
One of the first writers to really start getting under the skin of outdoor
education theory was Thomas James who studied Kurt Hahn and the Colorado
Outward Bound School. One of James' (1980) classic papers is "Can
the Mountains Speak for Themselves?". In it, James describes a
philosophical debate that was took place amongst staff at the Colorado
Outward Bound School, where the early mountaineer-type Outward Bound
instructors were increasingly being told by the growing number of
psycho-educator-type instructors that the so-called mountain experience
needed to be accompanied by direct psychological processing such as via
discussion in order for the full benefits of Outward Bound to be achieved.
The mountaineering side of the argument ran was that a well designed,
genuine adventure, is in and of itself is the kind of experience which
naturally provides for the goals of Outward Bound. James points out
the merits and downsides of each approach. This is good, juicy,
philosophical meat and an issue which should continue to be debated long and
Nature as a friend (Peter Martin)
Peter Martin has advanced a caring-based, relationship model for
understanding outdoor education. Essentially, the process is seen as active
conversation between person and environment, that evolves over time.
In this sense, many visits over a period of time to a natural place are
recommended over one off visits to novel natural places. For example,
climbing at a particular during different seasons and weather situations and
over many years creates quite a significant relational understanding of the
natural place by the person. Peter Martin has recently completed his PhD on this
topic, and is currently head of the outdoor education program at La Trobe
University, Australia, the largest outdoor education department in the
Psycho-evolutionary theory of outdoor
education (James Neill)
Outdoor education is a young field or industry that is rapidly changing and
evolving and it is emerging during a massive cultural revolution which is
stretching the gap between genetic human make up and cultural living
environmental conditions. Outdoor education, in a way, bridges the two
worlds, by taking people from Western world lifestyles into a world with
less technology and requiring more basic, physical and psychological
self-reliance and direct engagement on hands-on survival-type tasks with
It may be that the re-engagement of the human being with environments and
activities that are more akin to the environments of his/her ancestors and
reflected in his/her genetic makeup, could awaken or activate particular
types of physical and psychological "indigenous" responses. It could
be this feature, for example, of outdoor education which can account for the
sometimes phenomenal life changing effects of not only outdoor education
programs, but also the sometimes miraculous reports resulting from overseas
travel, extreme sport participation, near-death experiences, etc.
For more, see A Psycho-evolutionary Theory
of Outdoor Education