ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (12): 2393-2405.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.02393

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The concept, manifestation and cause of naturalness preference

ZHANG Haotian, YU Feng()   

  1. Department of Psychology, School of Philosophy, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China
  • Received:2023-01-02 Online:2023-12-15 Published:2023-09-11


Naturalness preference, characterized by a tendency to value natural environments, products, and innate abilities, is a crucial psychological phenomenon guiding aesthetic judgments, everyday consumption, and evaluations of others’ achievements. In this study, we define naturalness preference as a tendency to value entities or individuals that are naturally occurring with minimal human intervention. In terms of the extension of the concept, naturalness preference can be broadly categorized into three domains: natural environments, natural objects, and human characteristics. The domain of natural environments reflects people's preference for environments originating from nature, characterized by their pristine and non-artificial features. The domain of natural objects encompasses people's preference towards entities that are naturally generated or crafted by hand. Lastly, the domain of human characteristics primarily reflects people's preference for innate abilities, traits, and talents.

This paper is the first to summarize the causes of naturalness preference into three factors: cognitive (psychological essentialism), affective (positive and negative emotions), and normative (sacred moral values). The cognitive causes of naturalness preference are mainly associated with psychological essentialism, where entities perceived to possess higher natural essence are regarded as more authentic. The mutual transmission of essence is one of the core psychological mechanisms in the perception that human intervention disrupts or enhances naturalness. The affective causes of naturalness preference mainly include positive emotions and negative emotions. Positive emotions, such as satisfaction and happiness, boost the approach motivation towards naturalness, which makes people prefer natural objects. While negative emotions, such as disgust and fear, can stimulate avoidance motivation towards naturalness, which makes people stay away from unnatural objects. The normative aspect of naturalness preference primarily manifests in sacred moral values. People generally regard the natural world as benevolent, sacred, and inviolable. The sacred value of naturalness cannot be traded, let alone measured by worldly values such as money and power.

Future research should focus on the following three aspects. First, we should pay attention to the potential “dark sides” of naturalness preference and promote science popularization of beneficial products that are perceived as “non-natural” by the public. Employing “nudging” methods may help rectify biased perspectives and irrational consumption behaviors caused by naturalness preference. Second, future studies should delve into the cultural and psychological differences in naturalness preference, exploring how indigenous religious beliefs and traditional cultural thoughts shape distinct attitudes towards nature among Chinese and Western people. Last but not least, future research should approach the issue of emerging technology acceptance from the perspective of naturalness preference. Understanding the psychological aspects of naturalness preference can significantly contribute to reevaluating the impact of technology on the process of natural evolution and exploring how technology can better serve human beings, while fostering harmonious coexistence between humans and the natural world.

Key words: naturalness preference, psychological essentialism, morality, acceptance of emerging technology

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