Summary: Spending time enjoying the great outdoors improves both physical and mental health. Researchers say more interventions need to be taken to get people to spend time enjoying nature.
Source: Texas A&M
A study recently published in BMC Psychology outlines two scales created to measure factors related to time spent in nature, a first step in exploring how this affects health and well-being.
The scales were developed by a multidisciplinary team led by Jay Maddock, professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health.
A body of evidence has shown that time spent in nature, or TSN, is associated with physical and mental health, yet most American adults spend very little time in green or natural spaces. Two strong predictors of health behaviors are self-efficacy and intentions.
However, scales to measure these factors have not yet been developed and are needed to create effective, evidence-based interventions to increase TSN.
The researchers used a nine-phase procedure to construct, refine and test the scales. The first phase identified self-efficacy and intentions as the factors that would be measured by the scales. “Self-efficacy” was defined as “a person’s confidence in his or her ability to take action and to persist in that action despite obstacles or challenges pertaining to spending time in nature.”
Next, “Intentions” were defined as “planning to engage in certain nature-related behaviors over the next three months.” The first phase also involved initial generation of items to include in a survey to measure these factors.
Respondents were asked how confident they were that they “could spend at least two hours per week in green or natural spaces” under conditions including weather, stress, accessibility, scheduling or costs. They also were asked if they intended to participate in nature-related activities such as going outdoors, hiking or visiting parks in the next three months.
The survey was administered to a nationwide sample of more than 2,000 adults.
Spending more time in nature was found to correlate with both self-efficacy and intentions, suggesting that future interventions to improve TSN should have increasing confidence to spend time in nature as a goal.
Both factors negatively correlated with age, indicating diminishing confidence that could be related to mobility or safety concerns that increase as adults age.
Male respondents had higher self-efficacy than female respondents, a finding that agrees with other research showing that women are less likely to participate in recreational activities in nature despite showing a preference for doing so.
Development of the scales is just the first step of what the researchers hope will be a series of studies with the ultimate goal of finding ways to improve health and well-being through increased TSN.
“We’re working on developing a whole suite of measures,” Maddock said. “Once those are done, we’re going to be looking to develop theory-based interventions to increase time spent in nature.”
Development and validation of self-efficacy and intention measures for spending time in nature
The purpose of this study was to develop and evaluate the reliability and validity of self-efficacy and intentions measures for time spent in nature (TSN). TSN is related to improvement in psychological well-being and health, yet most American adults spend very little time in such settings. Theory-based interventions have been effective in increasing physical activity, a related behavior, and may be one mechanism to increase TSN. Self-efficacy and intentions have been shown to be strong predictors of health behaviors and are used across several theories. However, scales to measure these factors have not yet been developed and are needed to facilitate effective interventions.
TSN self-efficacy and intentions scales were developed using a sequential nine-step procedure: identification of the domain and item generation; content validity; pre-testing of questions; sampling and survey administration; item reduction; extraction of factors; tests of dimensionality; tests of reliability; and tests of validity. The 14-member multidisciplinary, researcher and practitioner investigative team generated 50 unique items for self-efficacy and 24 unique items for intentions. After subjecting items to content validity and pre-testing, item sets were reduced to 21 assessing self-efficacy and nine assessing intentions. A nationwide sample of 2109 adult participants (49.7% female, Mean Age = 58.1; 59.8% White, 18.4% Hispanic, 13.3% Black) answered these items via an on-line survey.
Using split-half measures, principal components analysis indicated a one-factor solution for both scales. The factor structure was upheld in confirmatory factor analyses and had high internal consistency (α = .93 self-efficacy; .91 intentions). The scales were moderately correlated with each other (r = .56, p < .001) and were strongly related to TSN with large effect sizes (eta2 > .20).
The study resulted in reliable and valid self-efficacy (14 items) and intentions (8 items) scales that can be used to develop future theory-based interventions to increase TSN and thereby improve population health.