Testing the unsolved problems hypothesis

The evolutionary life issues-mitigating function of nature exposure and its relationship with human well-being

Jiaqing O, Phillip S. Kavanagh, Martin Brüne, Gianluca Esposito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Theories regarding the benefits of spending time in natural settings – a growingly crucial topic in a progressively urbanized world – have been developed with varying success, and none could comprehensively illuminate the evolutionary underpinnings of this phenomenon. This paper posits that the alleviation of unsolved life problems by means of unique personal (imaginativeness) and environmental (nature exposure) factors and their synthesis, so as to free up opportunities for other evolutionarily-essential tasks in humans, is posited to be pivotal – the unsolved problems hypothesis. Six hundred participants completed a study testing these assumptions on Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Results highlight the relevance of unsolved existential issues in relation to environmental (but not personal or integrative) influences on the majority of well-being indicators (e.g., extent of psychotic symptoms, annual income and procreative outcomes). Findings could initiate new lines of enquiry to unravel the evolutionary mechanism underlying a phenomenon that has huge implications for human functioning and well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Article number126396
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalUrban Forestry and Urban Greening
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


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