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Emotional mechanisms in the relationship between coastal environments, well-being, and pro-environmental attitudes
Pauwels, L. (2022). Emotional mechanisms in the relationship between coastal environments, well-being, and pro-environmental attitudes. MSc Thesis. KU Leuven, Faculteit Psychologie en Pedagogische Wetenschappen: Leuven. VII, 50 pp.

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Document type: Dissertation


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  • Pauwels, L.

    Natural environments, and specifically coastal environments, have always been an important and unique part of the world around us. The relationship between exposure to the coast and well-being has been the subject of extensive research that has provided evidence that the coast can benefit well-being. There are several aspects of this relationship that we must further investigate. Various mechanisms that possibly underly this relationship have been proposed, though other potential mechanisms remain overlooked, such as emotional mechanisms. This study therefore explores the emotions of awe and nostalgia, in addition to nature connectedness, as possible mechanisms. Considering the benefits the coast can provide us and the rising impacts of climate change, we must further investigate how we can protect our planet and the coastlines. Therefore, this study explores how coastal environments can affect pro-environmental attitudes as well. Additionally, this study looked at possible differential effects of different types of coastal landscapes on well-being and pro-environmental attitudes, as coastlines can be substantially different across the globe. Finally, this study evaluated the possible effects that plastic litter in coastal environments may have on the coast’s capacity to foster well-being and influence pro-environmental attitudes. The study consisted of an online experiment of which a total of 251 participants participated. In this study, stress was induced in participants through a mental visualization task after which they watched a video of either an urban environment, coastal dunes, or a beach with a sunset. Participants rated their stress levels before and after watching the video. Well-being was measured in terms of stress reduction and meaning-focused coping. We also measured participants’ level of pro-environmental attitudes. Finally, we looked at the potential mediating role of awe with feelings of small self, nostalgia and nature connectedness. Results showed that stress reduction was greater after being exposed to the coastal sunset, compared to the urban environment. The coastal sunset was more effective in reducing stress than the coastal dunes. The type of environment did not affect meaning-focused coping or pro[1]environmental attitudes. Levels of all the potential mediators were higher in both coastal environments, compared to the urban environment. Stress reduction was positively correlated with nostalgia and feelings of small self. Nature connectedness was positively correlated with meaning-focused coping and pro-environmental attitudes. Feelings of small self were a significant mediator in the relationship between exposure to both coastal environments and stress reduction. We conclude that the coast possesses therapeutic value, especially in the sense that it has the capacity to elicit emotions of awe, small self, and nostalgia, which have been proved to be beneficial to well-being. Additionally, the mediating role of feelings of small self further justifies the therapeutic value of the coast, as this emotional mechanism can foster well-being by reducing stress when being exposed to coastal environments.

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