Nature deficit and senses: Relationships among childhood nature exposure and adulthood sensory profiles, creativity, and nature relatedness

Dongying Li, Yujia Zhai, Po Ju Chang, Jeremy Merrill, Matthew H.E.M. Browning, William C. Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nature deficit poses critical developmental challenges to the future generations. Louv, for example, stated that children needs adequate nature exposure for healthy development of their sense, learning, and creativity. However, it remains unknown whether individuals having various levels of nature access during childhood may develop different sensory processing patterns. The current study reports relationships between retrospective life course measure of childhood nature exposure and sensory profiles in young adulthood. A cross-sectional survey was conducted in Shanghai, China, with 700 Chinese young adults (18–25 years old) who grew up in diverse geographies across the country. Sensory Profile was measured using the Adolescent/Adult Sensory Profile (AASP) with four quadrants; creativity using the Alternative Uses Task (AUT), and nature-relatedness using the Nature-Relatedness (NR) scale. Perceived childhood nature exposure was calculated as a cumulative score from up to three childhood home locations, weighted by duration of residency. Ordinary least square (OLS) and structural equation models (SEM) were fitted to examine the direct and indirect relationships. After adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics, low childhood nature exposure was associated with low sensory registration. Regarding the relationship between childhood nature exposure and adulthood creativity and nature-relatedness, significant direct paths and indirect paths through low sensory registration were observed. Results suggested that children who had lower levels of nature exposure grew up to exhibit a high tendency to miss subtle sensory stimuli, and this sensory processing pattern in turn is associated with lower levels of affinity to nature and creativity. Notwithstanding the preliminary nature of these findings, this study offers implications for designing child-friendly urban space that facilitates sensory explorations and allows children to acquire the ability to recognize various sensory inputs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104489
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Children
  • Creativity
  • Nature deficit
  • Nature exposure
  • Nature relatedness
  • Senses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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