Exploring the Ecological Self: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis with Gifted Adults
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The nature connectedness research suggests that (re)creating human-nature connections can address both escalating ecological issues and rising mental health concerns by fostering (ecological) self-realization. Given that the nature connectedness literature oversimplifies experience of ecological self, however, there remains a need to explore lived ecological self experience, and how this experience influences mental health and environmental behaviour. In this exploratory interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA), I sought to flesh out the nature connectedness research by investigating ecological self experience among a small group of gifted adults (n=8) who measure relatively high in nature connectedness. Three research questions guided the study. The project’s primary research question was: How do gifted adults experience ecological self? Two secondary, theory-driven sub-questions refined the project further: 1. How does experience of ecological self influence mental health? 2. How does experience of ecological self influence environmental behaviour? Analysis of data collected via two semi-structured interviews held with each participant reveal that while ecological self experiences might often enhance mental health, nature experiences can also be intense, distressing, and/or ambivalent, and environmental concerns can precipitate anguish and anger. Findings also illustrate how experience of ecological self can be inconsistent: conceptions of the human-nature relationship varied, and experience of ecological self seemed to oscillate along with diurnal and seasonal cycles and appeared to evolve over the lifespan. Finally, results demonstrate that while ecological self experience may motivate pro-environmental behaviour, movement from experience to action is not automatic. Findings show how a variety of intra- and interpersonal factors can hinder pro-ecological engagement. Taken together, study results nuance the nature connectedness literature by illustrating the complexity of ecological self experience. While (re)creating human-nature connections can be considered one approach to addressing escalating ecological issues and rising mental health concerns, findings from this project suggest that the back-to-nature strategy is not a cure-all.