Disconnect with real nature will hit humans hard: study

WASHINGTON - The disconnect with nature as people go on virtual tours of the Grand Canyon and other wonders, play with robotic dogs and even larger-than-life dinosaurs but don’t observe animals in their natural habitat or a play with a live pet, may give rise to psychological problems, researchers say.

This disconnect with real nature may emerge as one of the central psychological problems of our times, University of Washington (UW) psychologist Peter Kahn believes.

For instance, his earlier plasma window study showed that people recovered better from low-level stress by looking at an actual view of nature rather than seeing the same real-time high-definition TV scene displayed on a plasma window.

‘We are a technological species, but we also need a deep connection with nature in our lives,’ said Kahn, who conducted the study exploring how humans connect with nature and technological nature.

‘What do we compare technology to? If we compare it to no nature, technological nature works pretty well. But if we compare it to actual nature, it doesn’t seem to provide as many psychological benefits,’ Kahn said.

Kahn and two of his UW graduate students, Rachel Severson and Jolina Ruckert, look at the psychological effects of interacting with various forms of technological nature and explore humanity’s growing estrangement from nature.

The UW researchers cite earlier experiments conducted by Kahn’s lab, one with a plasma display ‘window’ and several with AIBO, a robotic dog.

The AIBO studies showed that children were in some ways treating the robots as other beings. But compared to interacting with a real dog, their interactions with AIBO were not as social or deep, according to a UW release.

‘Poor air quality is a good example of physical degradation,’ said Kahn. ‘We can choke on the air, and some people suffer asthma, but we tend to think that’s a pretty normal part of the human condition,’ he said.

These findings were published in the current issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.


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