It’s a new alert about the lack of geographical and racial representation in scientific analyzes that aim to draw conclusions about human behavior and well-being, this time coming from one area that has gained popularity in recent years: the relationship between mental health and a connection to nature.
Researchers at the University of Vermont in the US reviewed 174 studies of the benefits of exposure to nature on indicators of happiness, depression, and anxiety and concluded that if the conclusions point in the same direction, there is a fundamental problem with the investigation: Most of the participants in the samples evaluated were “white and wealthy.” The concepts themselves tend to reflect views of the Western world when there is mental illness in the rest of the world and very different ways of approaching, interacting with, or evaluating nature that end in escape, preventing outcomes from appearing, as they usually are, as universal facts – and making it difficult to derive All conclusions.
The work was published in Current Research in Environmental Sustainability and draws attention to its conclusion and to the concern that the field of planetary health should not be precluded by conclusions closer to where the research teams are.
In the article, they note that the burden of mental illness has increased “significantly” in the past 30 years globally and is a co-factor of other diseases, while the discussion about sustainability and the relationship with nature is informed by concerns such as climate change.
Greater interaction with nature has been suggested as a possible protective or stabilizing factor for some symptoms, but again it appears that one of the biases discussed in the behavioral sciences, which tends to focus on Western societies, educated, industrialized, wealthy and democratic – is an ironically intentional psychologist The acronym WEIRD (Weird in English) by anthropologist Joseph Heinrich, Professor in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, is not entirely representative of human diversity, as the majority of the planet’s population does not live in this context.
To understand how contaminated this new area is with this, they analyzed 174 studies published in scientific journals and found the same distortion, which ultimately determines the way various concepts and conclusions are framed, they say.
Three-quarters of the studies published in scientific journals were conducted in the so-called Western world and only three in other geopolitical contexts: Colombia, Iran and India. Most of the studies were conducted in high-income countries, only 2.3% in middle-income countries and 1.2% in poor countries. Most of the studies had no information on the diversity of the included population, that is, the ethnicities.
For the authors, this type of bias repeats what has already been observed in previous studies, bearing in mind that it should lead to reflection on how not to lose part of the experiences, cultures, and values that can influence this interaction between humans. The environment. They specifically warn that there is an “activation” of nature itself, which may not necessarily be sustainable.
Our analysis shows that research in this area considers nature as a therapeutic alternative: ‘nature’s potions’ are health interventions, contact with wildlife is a cure and ‘vitamin C’ [G de greenspace, espaços verdes] It is a “substance” that humans need, rather than being seen as an essentially interlocking, sacred, and universal entity. Few of the researchers in our analysis recognize the need to change this mechanistic perspective and, in turn, support a dramatic redesign of human habitats rather than encouraging palliative solutions such as parks or institutional gardens,” they wrote.
For the team, led by anthropologist Carlos Andres Gallegos-Riofrio, who specializes in indigenous peoples, well-being and a vibrant cultural landscape, the topic deserves attention and challenges the emergence of studies to test the hypothesis of the relationship between nature and well-being/health. In a more in-depth representational way, he transcends “reductive and colonial viewpoints” with openness. “True integration into well-being and nature research (including community input and alternative concepts of nature, well-being and mental health) will have tremendous potential to have real-world implications.”
Reacting to work which, also with some irony, titled “The Chronic Lack of Diversity and Pluralism in Research on Nature’s Effects on Mental Health,” Joseph Heinrich, who formulated the “WEIRD” theory, told The Guardian that the work showed a “tremendous bias” of findings in This area, which adds to the call for further studies. At the moment, it is considered that the ability to generalize the results is limited.
What do studies say?
The list of works analyzed includes investigations into the benefits of living, working or studying near green areas, from general gains in well-being to specific health problems such as ADHD in children.
Among them, there is only one investigation conducted in Portugal, published in 2014, about exercising outdoors. At the time, in a sample of 282 athletes, researchers concluded that those who combined both indoor and outdoor physical activity reported more positive feelings and higher levels of well-being, with connection to nature an important predictor of well-being.
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