A framework for understanding the human experience of nature through cognitive mapping

Nitzan Dan-Rakedzon, Whitney Fleming, Nurit Lissovsky, Susan Clayton, Assaf Shwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human behavior is a key driver of the biodiversity crisis, and addressing it requires changing individual choices and actions. Yet, the same processes that imperil biodiversity (e.g., urbanization) also alienate people from the experience of nature, eroding care for the natural world. Although averting this extinction of experience is increasingly recognized as a major contemporary conservation challenge, understanding of what constitutes nature experience remains elusive and few empirical studies have explored it directly. Most researchers have used nature interactions as a stand-in for experience, even though experience extends beyond interactions. We aimed to determine what constitutes the experience of nature and to propose a holistic, empirically derived framework that incorporates the multiple dimensions and components of the experience of nature. Using a mixed-method approach across 3 countries (the United States, Switzerland, and Israel), we conducted a multistage, conceptual content, cognitive mapping (3CM) exercise with 106 participants. This methodology included developing a prompt to capture participants’ perceptions of nature experiences and subsequently refining and organizing their input into distinct components and underlying dimensions through an iterative engagement process. Beyond multisensory interactions with nature, experience of nature consisted of 2 dimensions: the circumstances in which interactions occur and the internal responses that encompass various cognitive, affective, and restorative benefits associated with nature interactions. These 3 dimensions had 33 components that occurred consistently across participants in the 3 countries. Frequently mentioned components included seeing animals, landscapes, or scenery; lack of human influence; weather conditions; relaxing, recharging; feeling good; and awe for nature. Fear and nature experienced at home were the least mentioned components. Together, our results showed that nature experience is a combination of nature interactions, circumstances, and internal responses. The emphasized components underscore the significance of offering access to extensive, less human-influenced natural spaces. This in turn can foster a profound nature experience, cultivating feelings of connectedness and care for nature.

Original languageEnglish
JournalConservation Biology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • 3CM
  • 3CM
  • conservación
  • conservation
  • cross-cultural
  • experience of nature
  • experiencia de la naturaleza
  • extinción de la experiencia
  • extinction of experience
  • human–nature interaction
  • interacción humano-naturaleza
  • intercultural

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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