Disputerer på miljøpsykologi

Svein Åge Kjøs Johnsen (foto: HINN/Gro Vasbotten)

Høgskolelektor i miljøpsykologi ved HiL, Svein Åge Kjøs Johnsen disputerer for sin Ph.d.-grad 17. oktober 2014 med avhandlingen "Using the Natural Environment for Emotion Regulation. Conceptual and Empirical Explorations" om bruk av naturen for å regulere følelser.

Disputasen vil finne sted ved Fakultet for samfunnsvitenskap og teknologiledelse, institutt for psykologi, NTNU.

Hovedveileder for Kjøs Johnsen har vært professor Einar Strumse (HiL), mens biveiledere har vært professor Leif W. Rydstedt (HiL) og professor Torbjørn Rundmo (NTNU).

Oppsummering av avhandling (in english)

The topic of this thesis is the use of nature for emotion regulation. This is investigated through a theoretical analysis, a field study, an experimental study, and a survey study with stimulus presentations.

There are two aspects that can be studied with regards to emotion regulation:

  • the attempts to regulate emotion, which can be emotion regulation strategies
  • outcomes of such emotion regulation strategies

The first paper included in this thesis is a theoretical analysis of the use of nature for emotion regulation. In this paper, positive emotion regulation is distinguished from negative emotion regulation (e.g., decreasing sad feelings), which mainly occurs later in the emotion regulation process.

It is also argued that the environment can have both a direct and an indirect effect on emotions. For example, the environment could make it somewhat easier to process emotions cognitively.

In addition, there may be individual differences with regards to the experience of nature. People may benefit differently from nature; some may benefit more from the purported increase in positive emotions, some may benefit more from the restoration of cognitive resources, whereas others may benefit from affective restoration (e.g., decreases in negative emotions).

The analysis of the use of nature for emotion regulation might also be relevant for a general analysis of environment-focused emotion regulation.

In the second paper an attempt was made to measure the use of nature for emotion regulation and to explore relations between such usage and personality, stress and a number of restorative outcomes. The participants completed the questionnaire while being in a natural environment.

Three aspects of emotion regulation in nature were found:

  • positive emotion regulation
  • negative emotion regulation
  • the increase of negative emotion while not in nature.

Furthermore, a novel restorative outcome concept, termed ego restoration, was introduced, and it was attempted to measure this concept by operationally defining it as perceived changes in “willpower”.

The main conclusion in the paper was that people who use nature for emotion regulation also report cognitive benefits from being in nature. In addition, the results showed that neuroticism was associated with negative emotion regulation.

The third paper reports results from two studies, one experimental study showing that actively using a picture of nature for emotion regulation can have a beneficial impact on positive mood (although the results indicated that this effect may be complex).

One conclusion from this study was that relying exclusively on the strategy of using nature for regulating one’s emotions may not be recommended, people may require a variety of strategies.

The second study, a survey, showed that the motivational tendency to visit a natural environment when happy was associated with positive mood, albeit weakly. Moreover, a novel concept was introduced to measure the perception of an environment, emotional potential, referring specifically to the potential of an environment to increase positive and reduce negative emotions.

To conclude, nature appears to possess a number of special properties beyond the capacities of simple activation of positive emotion, and reduction of negative emotion. The evidence reported in the articles included in this thesis leads to the conclusion that the use of nature for emotion regulation generally divides into

  1. the regulation of negative emotion, which is associated with self-reported restoration and a perceived increase in self-control strength, and
  2. the regulation of positive emotion, which is also associated with restoration to some extent.

Actively using nature to regulate negative emotions may increase positive mood, but it should not be over-exploited because the strategy may be less effective over time. The emotional potential of a classically beautiful natural environment may be perceived as relatively high, meaning that people generally perceive this type of environment as reducing negative and increasing positive feelings. Moreover, the motivation to visit such an environment while experiencing positive emotions was weakly associated with positive mood.

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