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How Modern Life Became Disconnected from Nature

Since the 1950s, research suggests, we have become more and more distanced from nature & its life-giving benefits.

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By Selin Kesebir, Pelin Kesebir| September đôi mươi, 2017

It’s hard khổng lồ overstate how much good nature does for our well-being: Study after study documents the psychological and physical benefits of connecting with nature. People who are more connected with nature are happier, feel more vital, and have more meaning in their lives.

Even in small doses, nature is a potent elixir: When their hospital room had flowers & foliage, post-surgery patients needed less painkillers & reported less fatigue. And merely looking at pictures of nature does tốc độ up mental restoration và improves cognitive sầu functioning.


These studies, along with hundreds of others, all point khổng lồ the same conclusion: We stvà to benefit tremendously from nurturing a svào connection with nature. Yet our connection to lớn nature seems more tenuous than ever today—a time when our children can name more Pokémon characters than wildlife species.


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It is widely accepted that we are more disconnected from nature today than we were a century ago, but is that actually true? A recent study we conducted suggests that it is—và that may be bad news not only for our well-being but also for the environment.

Our growing disconnection from nature

To find out how the human relation to lớn nature has changed over time, we asked ourselves: How can we define và measure all the various ways in which people connect with nature? How can we count all the times people stop lớn watch a sunphối or listen lớn birds chirping, or how long they spover walking tree-lined streets? We could certainly ask these questions khổng lồ living people, but we couldn’t ask people who lived a hundred years ago.

Instead, we turned to the cultural products they created. Works of popular culture, we reasoned, should reflect the extent to which nature occupies our collective sầu consciousness. If novelists, songwriters, or filmmakers have fewer encounters with nature these days than before, or if these encounters make less of an impression on them, or if they don’t expect their audiences to respond lớn it, nature should feature less frequently in their works.

We created a danh sách of 186 nature-related words belonging lớn four categories: general words related to lớn nature (e.g., autumn, cloud, lake, moonlight), names of flowers (e.g., bluebell, edelweiss, foxglove, rose), names of trees (e.g., cedar, laburnum, whitebeam, willow), & names of birds (e.g., finch, hummingbird, meadowlark, spoonbill).

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Next, we checked how frequently these 186 words appeared in works of popular culture over time, including English fiction books written between 1901 and 2000, songs listed as the top 100 between 1950 & 2011, và storylines of movies made between 1930 & 2014.

Across millions of fiction books, thousands of songs, and hundreds of thousands of movie & documentary storylines, our analyses revealed a clear và consistent trend: Nature features significantly less in popular culture today than it did in the first half of the 20th century, with a steady decline after the 1950s. For every three nature-related words in the popular songs of the 1950s, for example, there is only slightly more than one 50 years later.

Percentage of nature-related words in song lyrics

A look at some of the hit titles from 1957 makes clear how things have sầu changed over time: They include “Butterfly,” “Moonlight Gambler,” “White Silver Sands,” “Rainbow,” “Honeycomb,” “In the Middle of an Islvà,” “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea,” “Blueberry Hill,” và “Dark Moon.” In these songs, nature often provides the backdrop to lớn và imagery of love, as in “Star Dust” by Billy Ward và His Dominoes, which starts with:

And now the purple dusk of twilight time Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we’re apart
You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a tuy vậy that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday.

Fifty years later in 2007, there are only four nature-related hit titles: “Snow (Hey Oh),” “Cyclone,” “Summer Love,” & “Make It Rain.”

This pattern of decline didn’t hold for another group of words we tested—nouns related khổng lồ human-made environments, such as bed, bowl, brick, & hall—suggesting that nature is a quality case.

The source of our nature deficit

How can we explain this shrinking of nature in our collective imagination và cultural conversation? A closer look at the data yields an interesting clue: References khổng lồ nature declined after, but not before, the 1950s.

The trkết thúc of urbanization—which swallows up natural areas and cuts people off from natural surroundings—is typically used khổng lồ explain the weakening human connection to lớn nature, but our findings are not consistent with that tài khoản. Urbanization rates did not change from the first half of the 20th century to lớn the second in the U.S. & U.K., where most works we studied originated.

Instead, our findings point to a different explanation for our disconnection from nature: technological change, and in particular the burgeoning of indoor và virtual recreation options. The 1950s saw the rapid rise of television as the most popular medium of entertainment. Video games first appeared in the 1970s & have sầu since been a popular pastime, while the Internet has been claiming more and more leisure time since the late 1990s. It stands to reason that these technologies partially substituted for nature as a source of recreation & entertainment. Classic paintings such as Winslow Homer’s Snap the Whip (1872) or Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Islvà of La Grande Jatte (1886) point lớn a time when children played in wide open green fields và adults spent their Sunday afternoons in nature.

Winslow Homer’s Snap the Whip

To the extent that the disappearance of nature vocabulary from the cultural conversation reflects an actual distancing from nature, our findings are cause for concern. Aside from its well-being benefits, a connection lớn nature strongly predicts pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors. Such a love for nature is often born from exposure to lớn nature as a child. This is what made author Richard Louv write, “As the care of nature increasingly becomes an intellectual concept severed from the joyful experience of the outdoors, you have to wonder: Where will future environmentalists come from?”

It’s worth remembering that cultural products such as songs và films not only reflect the prevailing culture—they also shape it. Modern artists have sầu the opportunity khổng lồ skết thúc the message that nature is worth paying attention lớn and khổng lồ help awaken curiosity, appreciation, & respect for nature, as some did back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Artistic creations that help us connect with nature are crucial at a time lượt thích this, when nature seems lớn need our attention và care more than ever.

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