Track: Inner Ecology, Collective Psyche and Social Transformation
The Therapeutic Value of The Overview Effect
A significant number of space travellers have reported seeing Earth from orbit or the moon as an awe-inducing experience that is deeply impactful. To date existent research has provided convincing evidence that nature is therapeutic but there is limited research exploring the impact of extraordinary and awe inducing natural environments. Earth gazing as an atypical method of engaging with the natural environment, but one that seems to offer demonstrable and similar benefits to nature based interventions in terms of feelings of well being and connectedness. In order to bridge this gap, my study used Interpretative IPA to explore how seven retired NASA astronauts experienced Earth gazing from orbit and viewing nature from this perspective. Three main themes emerged: 1) Deeply Impactful Perceptions of Earth, 2) Profound and unexpected emotional impact and, 3) A space odyssey. The first theme describes the initial aesthetic observations and the dynamic interaction with the natural world. The second theme describes the emotive impact and noetic contemplation that took place. The final theme represents the embodiment of the experience post-flight. It seems that Earth gazing can strengthen our connection to nature and life, elicit awe and wonder, create conflicting emotions and thoughts (cognitive dissonance), enable creativity, social cohesion, and pro-social behaviour. These central features suggest it can instigate behavioural change and foster wellbeing, and therefore make it relevant to Psychology. Finally, this study recommends that this experience can be adapted and used as a green intervention at a local and global level within healthcare organisations.
I completed my doctoral research in Counselling Psychology at City University London on the topic of ‘astronaut experiences of Earth gazing’. I interviewed seven astronauts. My findings suggest Earth gazing is a meaningful experience and fosters various outcomes, for example: awe and wonder, cognitive dissonance, universalism/oneness, vitality, spirituality, self-transcendence, and connectedness. More importantly each of the astronauts in my study came away with a stronger and improved relationship with Earth and nature. Based on my findings i argue Earth gazing offers comparable and enhanced benefits to nature-based psychological interventions and psychedelic clinical trials in terms of feelings of wellbeing, transcendence and connectedness. Earth gazing is a deeply meaningful experience that motivate positive attitudinal and behavioural change and can help us reconsider societal values. In view of this, I want to discuss the importance of harnessing this experience via virtual reality.