Testing the Unsolved Problems HypothesisThe Evolutionary Life Issues-Mitigating Function of Nature Exposure and Its Relationship with Human Well-Being

Authors Organisations
  • Jiaqing O(Author)
  • Phillip S. Kavanagh(Author)
    University of South Africa
  • Martin Brüne(Author)
    Ruhr University
  • Gianluca Esposito(Author)
    University of Trento
    Nanyang Technological University
Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Article number126396
JournalUrban Forestry & Urban Greening
Early online date23 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2019
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Theories on 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 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


  • contact with nature, evolutionary mismatch, unsolved life issues, psychotic symptoms, annual income, reproductive outcomes