Experts at the University of Washington are warning of an impending spurt in psychological problem after people's connection to the natural world is getting cut off due to modern technology.
"We are a technological species, but we also need a deep connection with nature in our lives," said Peter Kahn, a UW developmental psychologist.
Kahn and two of his UW graduate students, Rachel Severson and Jolina Ruckert, explored how humans connect with nature and technological nature.
Writing in the current issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, the researchere revealed that they looked at the psychological effects of interacting with various forms of technological nature and explore humanity's growing estrangement from nature.
They even cited an earlier experiment that showed that people recovered better from low-level stress by looking at an actual view of nature rather than seeing the same real-time high-definition television scene displayed on a plasma window.
"What do we compare technology to? If we compare it to no nature, technological nature works pretty well. But if we compare it to actual nature, it doesn't seem to provide as many psychological benefits," Kahn said.
They have also talked about a study that showed that compared to interacting with a real dog, children's interactions with robots were not as social or deep.
"Robot and virtual pets are beginning to replace children's interactions with biologically live pets. The larger concern is that technological nature will shift the baseline of what people perceive as the full human experience of nature, and that it will contribute to what we call environmental generational amnesia," Ruckert said.
Kahn added: "Poor air quality is a good example of physical degradation. We can choke on the air, and some people suffer asthma, but we tend to think that's a pretty normal part of the human condition.
He likened the situation to the effort to convince people that climate change is a serious challenge.
"People might think that if technological nature is partly good that that's good enough. But it's not. Because across generations what will happen is that the good enough will become the good. If we don't change course, it will impoverish us as a species," he said.