Welcome to the September 2010 Wake-Up Call, Awake’s monthly newsletter for research and news about behaviour change for sustainability.


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In this edition of Wake-up Call…


·         Feature Article – The Psychological Benefits of Nature

·         Upcoming Workshop – Cultivating Sustainability in Adelaide

·         Upcoming Workshop – Cultivating Sustainability in Sydney with the NPDISE

·         60 seconds with… Beck Szwede, Darebin Climate Action Now

·         Interesting article of the month - The Effect of “Climategate” on American TV Meteorologists

·         Exercise of the Month – Improving Our Connection With Nature


Feature Article – The Psychological Benefits of Nature


Few would argue that a good walk in nature leaves us feeling revitalised and uplifted. While the very act of taking exercise has undoubted benefits, there are numerous studies which show that connecting with nature specifically leads to a wide variety of positive outcomes, physically, psychologically and even socially.

A 2008 study showed that people who reported high contact with nature were more likely to also report feeling positive and on top of the world. Other studies have found that connecting with nature reduces stress and improves cognitive functioning.

It does not even need to be a connection with real nature that produces the benefits. A US study examined the effects of a 15-minute walk outdoors, versus watching a nature video. Both approaches had a positive effect on peoples emotions, attention, and ability to self-reflect, although the walk in real nature had a more powerful effect. In a similar study, people shown photographs of nature settings reported greater increases in “vitality” than those shown photos of buildings – although neither was as effective as leading them on a walk through nature.

Children appear especially likely to benefit from exposure to nature.  One interesting piece of research studied the effects on children upon relocating into a different house. Houses were rated according to the naturalness of their settings, including the view from the windows and the existence of natural elements in the yard. The authors reported that “results indicate that children whose homes improved the most in terms of greenness following relocation also tended to have the highest levels of cognitive functioning following the move”.

Another fascinating series of studies by Bruce Appleyard uses a technique called “Cognitive Mapping” to get children to draw representations of their neighbourhood. In one of the studies, he asked them to draw a map of their neighbourhood, and to comment on and represent positive elements and negative or dangerous elements. Those children in heavily traffic dependent neighbourhoods were more likely to draw dangerous, negative elements, their maps being more linear and lacking detail. In contrast, children in low traffic dependent areas drew more trees, play areas and positive, detailed images. The conclusion from this and similar studies is that children who view their neighbourhood from the back of a car see it as less rich and detailed, and more dangerous.

There are a few theories as to why contact with nature has such a positive effect on us, one of which is Attention Restoration Theory (ART). ART proposes that our attention gets stretched by day to day living, which negatively impacts our concentration, problem-solving ability and mood. By connecting with nature, our attention is restored, thus reducing these negative effects. A leading proponent of ART, Robert Kaplan, describes the following four elements of a natural setting as critical to restoration of attention.

·         being away: being distinct, either physically or conceptually, from the everyday environment

·         fascination: containing patterns that hold one’s attention effortlessly

·         extent: having scope and coherence that allow one to remain engaged

·         compatibility: fitting with and supporting what one wants or is inclined to do

When these four elements are present, the conditions are ideal for our attention to take a break and restore all manner of cognitive and emotional capacities.

The emerging field of Eco-therapy recognises these benefits and is incorporating a number of principles into interventions to alleviate all kinds of medical and psychological disorders. An overview of Eco-therapy research describes a study where 90% of participants who went on a nature walk reported an elevation in self-esteem, whereas 44% of those who walked through an indoor shopping centre reported reduced self-esteem.

Aside from the straight wellbeing benefits of exposure to nature, there are a number of other positive outcomes for society and the planet. One of these benefits is an enhanced desire to undertake environmentally friendly behaviours. A German study found that experiences in nature created an emotional affinity to it, which in turn made people more likely to take actions to protect the natural environment. Another study found that those who had a greater appreciation for the restorative aspects of a natural setting (based on the ART theory above), were more likely to report eco-friendly behaviour. Furthermore, research has even shown that people who have had positive experiences with nature are more likely to be involved in community service.

So the evidence is unequivocal – the more we can create opportunities for people to engage with nature, the greater the benefits, psychologically, physically, emotionally and socially.



You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it:


Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations.  Visit www.awake.com.au for more info


Upcoming Workshop – Cultivating Sustainability in Adelaide


A Cultivating Sustainability workshop has been confirmed for Adelaide on Tuesday, November 30th.

To register interest, please email timc@awake.com.au.  

Online registration details will soon be available at www.awake.com.au/cultivating.html


About the Workshop

Cultivating Sustainability is a 1-day workshop which provides sustainability advocates with insights, models and practical tools to support their behaviour change efforts.  Anybody who has taken on the challenge of influencing others to live and work more sustainably will find this workshop a valuable addition to their skills.

Cost:    For-profits $250pp

           Not-for-profit/Government $200pp

           Individuals/Community Groups $120pp


Feedback from attendees of recent Cultivating Sustainability workshops included…


“Great framework for encouraging behavioural change within organisations”

“Provided me with tools and insights to challenge me to review how I am approaching my sustainability project”

”This workshop has given me good insight into the motivating factors in people’s behaviour and ways to get lasting change”

“I found the workshop useful to help me learn practical and positive/inspirational ways to change peoples attitudes and behaviours towards sustainability”


For more information about the Cultivating Sustainability workshop, see www.awake.com.au/cultivating.html


Upcoming Workshop – Cultivating Sustainability in Sydney with the NPDISE


Awake is proud to have been selected as a provider of one of 14 modules for the National Professional Development Initiative for Sustainability Educators. The NPDISE  is supported and endorsed by Australia’s peak environmental education organisations. It identifies, recognises and facilitates delivery of endorsed professional development for sustainability / environmental education practitioners.

As part of the NPDISE initiative, a Cultivating Sustainability workshop will be held in Sydney on November 24th. The workshop is open to anyone who is interested.

All information and registration details can be found at http://www.npdise.com.au


60 Seconds with….. Beck Szwede, Darebin Climate Action Now


What first got you focused on sustainability?

I grew up near an environmental living zone and since primary school have been concerned about the impact we are having on the planet. In the last few years, as my knowledge of the impacts of climate change has increased, I have become much more focused on ways I can live more sustainably and have joined a local climate action group so I am now actively campaigning for better policies to reduce our carbon emissions. I have learnt so much from the group and it's great to have moral support when dealing with such confronting issues.

What is the sustainable choice you have recently made of which you are most proud?

I walk every chance I get! I've found it's often faster (and much more enjoyable) to walk than negotiate different modes of public transport when you only need to go a short distance.

What is a less sustainable choice that you are not so proud of?

Shopping for convenience, I know there are better alternatives but sometimes I just go for the easiest option.


Interesting Article of the Month –  The Effect of “Climategate” on American TV Meteorologists.


“Climategate” undermined belief in global warming among many American TV meteorologists.  

By Edward Maibach, James Witte & Kristopher Wilson

Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society  2010, In Press

What is it about? 

This research surveyed American TV meteorologists to examine the effects of the “Climategate” scandal, involving the unauthorised release of, and news stories about, emails between climate scientists in the US and UK, which brought into question the validity of some of their claims.

What did they find?

The study found that 42% of survey respondents indicated that the scandal made them more certain that global warming is not happening. Those who followed the story were less likely to trust climate scientists than those who had not followed it. The findings were strongest for those who were already sceptical about global warming, and those who held conservative views in general.

What can we take from this?

TV meteorologists are a trusted source of climate information for many people, and have a strong role to play in educating people about climate change. It is therefore somewhat alarming that they have been so easily influenced by the claims in the climategate scandal. If such highly trained and qualified people were influenced to such an extent, one can only imagine the effect which the situation has had upon the public, especially those who ­want to believe that climate change is not real.

It should, however, be noted that the importance of the research findings may be limited by the fact that those with an axe to grind may have been over-represented in the 52% of meteorologists who responded to the survey.


Exercise of the Month – Improving Our Connection With Nature


The feature article above highlights the importance of connecting with nature for our wellbeing. This months exercise provides an opportunity to review and look for ways we can incorporate “nature time” into our day.

1.      Thinking about your day-to-day routine, do you get regular exposure to nature?

2.      What could you do to increase your daily contact with natural settings? Could you…

a.      Take your lunch break outside instead of inside?

b.      Add a 15-minute walk to your day – perhaps before breakfast or after dinner?

c.      Move your desk so that you have a view of a natural setting?

d.      Do some of your work outside?

3.      When choosing a spot to connect to nature, you may wish to compare it to the 4 key elements of a natural setting outlined above

·         being away: is it away from your normal environment?

·         fascination: does it contain patterns that hold one’s attention effortlessly?

·         extent: does it have scope and coherence that allows you to remain engaged?

·         compatibility: does it fit with what you are inclined to do?

Although many of us regularly take a break in the fresh air, I’d be surprised if many people deliberately take the time to consider the quality of the natural setting we choose. By doing so, we may find that we gain the maximum benefit from our contact with nature.


The exercise of the month provides a tool to help you get engaged, inspired, aware and in action around sustainability.  Feel free to use it on your own, with a friend, or in your work.  If you do use it with others, please tell them where you got it!



About Awake

Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations.  Visit www.awake.com.au for more info



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