Why does nature enhance psychological well-being?A Self-Determination account

Ying Yang, Huajian Cai, Ziyan Yang, Xiaochong Zhao, Mei Li, Rui Han, Sylvia Xiaohua Chen

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


This research proposes a novel account for the established benefits of nature on psychological well-being from the perspective of Self-Determination Theory. That is, nature enhances psychological well-being by satisfying the basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Compared with non-nature control settings, two field experiments consistently showed that participants who were exposed to nature scenes manifested higher levels of positive affect, life satisfaction and meaning in life; and satisfaction of the three psychological needs mediated these nature effects. Three laboratory studies replicated these findings by exposing participants to digital nature scenes (vs. non-nature ones) or indoor plants (vs. control setting without indoor plants) or engaging them in nature-related activities (vs. non-nature related ones), with the exception of a non-significant effect of nature on satisfaction of relatedness. Taken together, these studies provided convergent evidence for our proposition, shedding light on the mechanisms underlying the benefits of nature on psychological well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101872
JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • Basic psychological needs
  • Nature
  • Self-determination theory
  • Well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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