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Place characteristics of exceptional experiences in nature: Understanding the role of place in Environmental Epiphany experiences

Authors: Melinda Storie*, Northeastern Illinois University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Environmental Perception, Environment
Keywords: place, conservation psychology, exceptional experiences, environmental epiphanies, human-nature interactions, emotion, affect
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Anecdotal evidence of magical, life-changing, and emotionally-charged experiences in nature abounds, but little is empirically known about the common characteristics of these exceptional experiences in nature. In this study, I explore the link between “Environmental Epiphanies” (experiences in which one’s relationship to nature shifts in a meaningful way) and participant-reported characteristics of the place where these experiences occur. I thematically analyze the specific place-based data of over 50 in-depth interviews of participants who have experienced Environmental Epiphanies in the framework of theoretical and conceptual foundations of exceptional experiences in nature. I investigate place-specific themes and characteristics within an established typology of Environmental Epiphanies (aesthetic, intellectual, realization, awakening, connectedness), various descriptive characteristics of these experiences (duration, season, time of day, role of others, objects of interest, etc.), and self-reported impacts of the experience (e.g. change in behavior / attitudes / values, persistence of change). Based on these findings, I explore how place can be situated within our understanding of exceptional experiences in nature and the broader concept of the nature-self relationship. Implications of this nuanced understanding of place can inform land managers, environmental educators, and various types of environmental program managers. In addition, a better understanding of experiences that have the potential to change individual-level environmentally responsible behavior can lead to more effective strategies to create and support such experiences among a greater diversity of the public.

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