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Nature improves mental health: research shows Western bias

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But when researchers at the University of Vermont analyzed a decade of research in this field – 174 peer-reviewed studies from 2010 to 2020 – they found that study participants were predominantly white and BIPOC communities (black, indigenous, colored) were severely underrepresented. .

More than 95% of research took place in high-income Western countries in North America, Europe and East Asia – or in Western countries such as South Africa – while research in the global south was largely absent. Less than 4% of studies were conducted in middle-income countries such as India, without studies in low-income countries.

Such a narrow sample of humanity makes it difficult for this area to make credible statements of universal scientific claims, say researchers who published their findings today in an ongoing study on environmental sustainability.

“This field has great potential to address urgent challenges, from the global mental health crisis to efforts to achieve sustainable development around the world – but to do so we must better reflect the diversity of the world’s population, cultures and values,” said lead author Carlos Andres Gallegos. Riofria. from the Gandha Institute of the University of Vermont.

Only one study in Africa? This is JAW

Gallegos-Riofria believes he was inspired to study the 2012 iconic analysis of human psychology and the science of behavior. This former team, led by Joseph Henry, highlighted the challenge of drawing universal conclusions about the behavior of people from experiments that mostly used college students from countries that are amazing (Western, educated, industrial, rich, and democratic).

Given that most people live in non-DID countries, with different styles of perception, reasoning, and values, Henry’s team argued that WEIRD research cannot reliably support universal scientific claims.

The UVM team used Henry’s lens, but delved deeper into the question of ethnicity to study the mental health benefits of nature. Although they expected Western bias, they were surprised by the level of bias: the sample populations were not only mostly from WEIRD countries, but also predominantly white.

The researchers were also surprised that 62% of the studies did not report the ethnicity of the participants at all (although the team acknowledges that some studies used anonymous data sources such as Twitter). Of the 174 studies, only one was conducted in Africa (South Africa) and one study was conducted in South America (Colombia) – no study tracked ethnicity. Only one study focused on the indigenous peoples of North America.

“We hope our research will be a wake-up call for this promising area that is bringing about positive change,” says co-author Rachel Gould of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources UVM and the Gund Institute for the Environment. “A more inclusive and diverse field that covers the research needs of the global community – and the full range of ways people interact with the non-human world – will ultimately be more effective.”

In addition to studying ethnicity and geography, the team also explored cultural values. They report that many studies have conceptualized the relationship between man and nature in human-oriented, individualistic, and extractive terms rather than with concepts such as reciprocity, responsibility, and kinship that are more common in many indigenous and other non-Western cultures. to say.

How to expand the field

The team offers several recommendations, including: greater collaboration with diverse communities, greater diversity of participants, improved demographic tracking, more focus on the global south, culturally sensitive experiments and tools, teaching cross-cultural research, and an emphasis on fairness and equity. Researchers say funding agencies and foundations should encourage more diversity – participants and settings – in their funding competitions.

The team also emphasizes the importance of diversifying environmental science, better supporting students and faculty from diverse backgrounds, and greater collaboration with diverse communities. Research by Dorset Taylor and others demonstrates that BIPOC scientists are underrepresented in U.S. environmental agencies, and that the environmental concerns of BIPOC communities are greatly underestimated.

“We need all cultures to work together to tackle the global emergencies we face,” said Amaya Karaska, co-author and graduate student at UVM. “It requires an understanding of what is universal in the relationship between man and nature and what is culturally specific. These ideas are crucial to drive social change and require research to be more inclusive. We need all hands on deck.”

Source: Eurekalert

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