Well, we don’t actually know. There’s a problem in a lot of research. We study who we have access to and forget that might not be representative of the broader world. Don’t get me wrong, efforts are often made to ensure generalizability but too often we overlook the lack of diversity completely.
For example, I didn’t even consider reporting or even collecting racial data on the participants in either my Master’s or doctoral research and nobody on my supervisory teams identified this as a need either. While my research wasn’t directly connected to the role of nature in mental health and well being, they were both loosely related. And this trend of not asking racial questions is prominent in the field.
Gallegos-Riofrío et al (2022) reviewed 10 years of published studies on the benefits of nature for mental health and well being and found that 62% were like mine, they do not report any ethnicity data. More than 98% of the studies focused on Western or Westernized countries. And more than 95% of studies were conducted in high income countries.
The bias goes beyond just participants to include how key concepts like nature and well being are understood. For example, nature was often equated with forest or with human-constructed natural areas like parks and greenspaces. Further, most of the research tools used Western conceptions of mental health.
We need to diversify this research both in participants and in research methods. And this effort starts by collecting and reporting ethnicity in studies. I’m also curious about the types of research methods that might be useful for this effort. My PhD research used photography and I’m curious if things like photography or other visuals might help improve the diversity.
In a previous post, I looked at how we think about nature. I think this is an important conversation within sustainability. Sustainability, like the discussion of nature and well being, needs to diversify. Otherwise we will continue to perpetuate colonial views focused on hierarchy (humans above nature) and resource use.