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Positive connection between nature experiences and happiness - National University of Singapore

The economic and ecological impacts of nature on humans have long been established with prevalent environmental issues such as climate change and over-exploitation of natural resources being the first to cross one’s mind. On the other hand, much less attention has been paid to the cultural and social values nature brings to humans. Even though natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Swiss Alps have been named some of the top holiday destinations, the intangible benefits people gain from experiencing nature are still difficult to quantify, and such studies typically require resource-intensive surveys and interviews.

To evaluate the benefits of nature experiences more efficiently and effectively, a team of NUS researchers turned to social media and artificial intelligence (AI) in a study published in Scientific Reports on 5 March 2020.

Led by Associate Professor Roman Carrasco and Dr Chang Chia-chen from NUS Biological Sciences, the research team analysed over 31,500 photographs across 185 countries on social media with the help of an automated image recognition technology. “Integrating social media data and AI opens up a unique opportunity for us to carry out unprecedented large-scale global studies such as this to better understand our interactions with nature in our daily lives,” said Dr Chang, Research Fellow at NUS Biological Sciences and first author of the study.

Collectively, the findings suggest the importance of nature in contributing to emotional happiness, relaxation and life satisfaction in communities worldwide.

Read the paper: Chang, C., Cheng, G.J.Y., Nghiem, T.P.L. et al. Social media, nature, and life satisfaction: global evidence of the biophilia hypothesis. Sci Rep 10, 4125 (2020).doi:10.1038/s41598-020-60902-w (open access)

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