Human–Animal Interactions: Expressions of Wellbeing through a “Nature Language”
1.1. Human and Animal Interactions
1.2. Animals and Human Needs
1.3. Animals and Nature Connectedness
1.4. Human–Animal Encounters Expressed as Nature Interaction Patterns
1.5. Aim and Research Question
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Ethics Approval
2.2. Recruitment and Data Collection
2.4. Data Analysis and Reliability
3.1. Participant Responses
3.2. Losing the Nature Language?
3.3. Themes: Psychological Descriptions and Interaction Patterns
3.3.1. Positive Emotions
“Swimming with marine animals is also an extremely peaceful experience”.
“Two days later and the feeling is still with me—a constant smile and occasional tear of gratitude and love”(Encountering/watching wildlife, Positive emotions)
“Just like the seals, it’s just so awesome to be in their habitat sharing the same waves”, and, “it was awesome (in the literal sense) to be able to witness these fish in a feeding frenzy”.
3.3.2. Esteem, Fulfillment
“He helped me so much that day, I wasn’t alone it was as if he could see I was hurting in my soul and he helped the pain go away.”
“the ocean was showing a bright side to my situation, as though it was rewarding me for being strong”.
“I was able to forget about everything else going on around me while I was under the water watching the Dolphins”(Encountering/watching wildlife)
3.3.3. Perspective Gaining
“I am Aboriginal and every living being is such an important part of our journey as humans. They have many stories to tell us. Our connection to other beings is very special spiritually”.
“I felt as though nature had given me a sign that it was time to open up. I felt very lucky for the earth to be looking out for me”(Encountering/watching wildlife, Perspective gaining)
“To be in their environment, floating so the dolphins approached you when they wanted was a little intimidating and made you feel very small and insignificant and even vulnerable”(Encountering animals that can harm, Perspective gaining)
“these experiences bring me a new look on sharks, realize the fragility of marine animals and make me aware on the fact that we are just a small part of the life on earth”(Encountering/watching wildlife, Perspective gaining)
“Looking into the eyes of a whale has been one of the most profoundly powerful experiences I have had in nature. It made me aware of the enormity of the marine world and the peaceful intelligence of these incredible animals”(Recognising and being recognised by a non-human other, Perspective gaining)
3.3.4. Love, Belonging, Connection
“the fish communicated, we played hide and seek and chaseys. We were friends”,(Recognising and being recognised by a non-human other, Love, belonging, connection)
“My mental and physical wellbeing have improved a lot—the term Dolphin Love Energy is how I describe the experience”(Love, belonging, connection)
“I felt like the dolphin understood that I had a disability”, and, “The connection with wild dolphins surfing the waves … in one of nature’s theatrical performances was extremely beautiful to be a part of”(Interacting with the periodicity of nature, Love, belonging, connection)
“all living things strive for the same thing, to be safe and loved and connected to their own species”.
Limitations and Future Directions
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Appendix A. Coding Book for Interaction Patterns with Wildlife
Appendix A.1. General Coding Decision Rules for Interaction Patterns (IPs)
- Use the codebook as a guide for coding each response. Only code interactions with wildlife/nature, not with other people or objects. Only code if the comment is related to a human–animal interaction and not if a general comment or opinion unless, there is an indication that the comment relates to an animal interaction.
- “Interaction Patterns” are defined as fundamental ways of interacting with nature that are characterized abstractly enough such that many different instantiations of each pattern can be engendered”.  (p. 3)
- An Interaction Pattern (IP) characterizes any physical and/or sensorial (including any one or combination of the five senses: touch, smell, sight, taste, sound) activity between the participant and nature/animals .
- Only code the Interaction Pattern, not the corresponding Psychological Descriptions under the IP themes. Only code any clear physical and/or sensorial human–animal interaction excluding any emotional verbs in the coded IP.
- Responses are codes based on the meaning of the response, not just the use of isolated words in the text, (even though this may be subjective). In some cases, a single word or reference or denotes meaning (human judgement needs to be used regarding this).
- If there are multiple IPs embedded within one continuous sentence, then parse out each IP and code them individually. If the same phrase appears to require multiple IPs, try to code the most fitting IP using the codebook guideline table. If there are more than one statement in the response, code each statement separately.
- Only use more than one IP if there is clearly more than one that are equally important.
- Only code participants’ interactions with animals when they actually enact it. Do not code an IP if it were part of a participant’s stated intention or musings, but the participant did not specify that they had actually enacted it.
- Do not code references that respondents make to other people’s interaction patterns. e.g., “many of the current generation of marine biologists were inspired to pursue such, from experience directly gained from the spectacles” this is not coded as it does not refer to the respondent themselves.
- If there are two identical statements only code one.
- NB not all comments or all sections of responses need to be coded. Do not code ‘and’ and other words that are not crucial to the meaning of the comment.
- See below for the coding guideline table for definitions and when to use each of the 5 IP codes.
|CODE||Encountering Animals That Can Harm||Recognising and Being Recognised by a Non-Human Other||Interacting with the Periodicity of Nature (Animals)||Reading the Signs of Animals in Nature||Encountering/Watching Wildlife|
|Brief Definition||Encountering harmful or hurtful natural aspects involving animals||Recognising and being recognised or acknowledged by an animal||Reference to natural environment and animals doing their natural activities at certain times||Information from animals (e.g., behaviour) that provide meaning||Coming across wildlife in nature and observing them|
|Full descriptive definition as||Being in nature. Acknowledging we may be hurt or killed increases awareness of surroundings. Wariness and fear can also contribute to feelings of awe, wonder, and humility ||“For the entire history of our species we have not only been aware of wild animals, but aware that they have been aware of us, and the desire for this wild form of interaction persists today”.  (p. 60) Interacting with wild animals, making eye contact, feeling in-sync are all forms of being recognised.||As the seasons and days change birds, fish, mammals breed, migrate, and die||“Nature provides us with various signs that, when we take notice and respond, enhance our wellbeing” , (p. 61)|
Watching natural behaviours of animals in their natural environment provides understanding of their true lives and circumstances
|When people encounter wildlife, it may be unexpected or not, in plain view or not (under the ocean, in the skies) |
When one happens upon wildlife and takes the time to watch or observe animals in nature.
|Guidelines for when to use||Use when participant refers specifically to being in proximity of a dangerous animal or in a situation in nature (with an animal present) that is scary or dangerous||Use when a person recognises a wild animals and also the wild animal looks or makes some other sensory connection with the viewer (sight, touch, interaction in general)|
Use if the person realises they have been seen or acknowledged by the wildlife
Use when the person perceived the animal has chosen to interact with them.
Use when the person uses the word “Interact” or “Contact”, “in tune”
|Use when the participant refers to the periodic cycles, changes or patterns that animals enact such as life cycles (birth, death, nesting) migrations |
Use when reference to animals enacting patterns or joining the periodicity of nature such as interacting with the daily/seasonal patterns/surfing on a wave.
(Use for surfing with an animal if it specifically states surfing or moving on the wave together)
|Use when participant references that seeing/observing/witnessing a specific aspect of animals in nature provides relevant or meaningful information such as learning about their behaviour or their natural environment|
Only use this IP if it includes participant describing interactions, not just realising something without comment to the actual interaction
|Only use if no other category is appropriate to code for the interaction as this category could otherwise be used to code all responses.|
Use only if reference is made to the interaction
When reference is made to any form of wildlife encounter (encountering, Observing, interacting, watching, swimming with)
|Guidelines for when not to use|
|Do not use if no reference is made to a potentially dangerous animal or situation in the presence of an animal|
Example: The following quote is not coded to this IP as it is not about being scared of an animal but about the weather.
“I recall being in a frightening situation at sea when the weather turned bad”.
|Do not use this code if there is no recognition or interaction by the animals towards the person.|
Do not code these 2 following quotes under this IP as they are not about mutuality only proximity. Both of these are coded as Encountering/watching wildlife
“two dolphins happened to come swimming in same bit of water”
“when surfing always see dolphins, fish and occasionally sharks”
(this quote is not coded as periodicity of nature as it does not refer to the animals surfing with or alongside the person)
|Do not use if the participant refers to an activity undertaken by an animal that does not relate to patterns, cycles, phases or periodicity. |
Do not use for the following quote as although it mentions surfing it is not about the animal surfing and the animal must be interacting with the periodicity of nature.
“a humpback nearly breach on me when I was surfing”
|Do not use if reference is made to an animal action that when noticed, does not give meaningful information/learning/realisation etc to the viewer.|
Do not use for the following example because it does not refer to a pattern of actual interaction and is a psychological description:
“realization that cooperation, companionship, trust etc are universal traits for the wellbeing and survival of sentient beings”
|Do not use if the person comments that the animal was present but that no notice/observation was taken of it.|
Do not use if one of the other interaction patterns was more appropriate.
|Examples||When one encounters sharks, sea snakes, other harmful creatures, etc.|
“We were shitting ourselves at first until we realized they’re dolphins”
“the seals looked quite scary underwater with their eyes peeled back and their long canines”
“It was a scary at first, but more so because I fear sharks and I felt vulnerable”
|When a wild animal shares eye contact with a human|
“I felt that I was seen as well as seeing”
“I felt as though I could communicate on some level with the Dolphins”
“the fish communicated, we played hide and seek and chaseys. We were friends.”
|Watching the migration of a whale|
Awareness of life cycles of animals
“whales swim past from the shore at flat rock (near Ballina) a number a times during their migration.”
“seeing dolphins and whales going by or surfing with me”
“the rhythmic pace as the tide ebbs and flows.”
|“Seeing these creatures in their natural habitat”|
“how humpback whales behave”
“their role in the ecosystem”
These above quotes were included because the participant read the signs/behaviour/interactions of the animals to create meaning, reflected in their statement
“ I watched a pod of dolphins swim around, trap and then devour a bunch of fish”
This above quote is coded due to direct reference to noticing the behaviours of the animals.
|“Swimming with dolphins incidentally on several occasions at the beach”|
“swimming with schools of tropical fish and seeing eels”
“Watching the dolphins and other marine life in their environment”
“saw a whale once”
“swam with dolphins”
“Seen a couple of sharks”
“shown the location of local sea bird nests etc, e.g., Osprey, White Bellied Sea Eagles, Brahminy Kites, shore birds.”
Appendix A.2. General Coding Decision Rules for Psychological Descriptions
- A “Psychological Description” is the portion of the participant’s Nature Language that describes their personal reflections on and feelings about their experience 
- The Psychological Description is in contrast to the physical/sensorial experiences that are coded as IPs. “There are three possible forms that a Psychological Descriptions could take: (1) the participant’s description of their personal feelings, (2) the participant’s description of an action, where the verb is more “psychological/emotional” oriented (though this is not always the case), as opposed to the “physical/sensorial” verbs coded within Interaction Patterns, and (3) the participant’s description of the general feelings surrounding their larger experience described in their Nature Language.”  (p. 43)
- In contrast to coding IPs, the PD includes the context of the situation or the interaction for it to make sense. Code as much as necessary for the context around the PD to be included. If a comment stands alone, such as, “underwater environment is amazing” it does not need to have extra context text included around it unless it adds further relevant understanding.
- The Psychological Description can include information that may not have happened during the encounter, providing the Psychological Description is still a reflection on the person’s experience. “This is because our psychological response to interacting with nature does not always end when you leave; rather, the effects and reflections can linger long after the human-nature interaction”  (p. 44).
- Do not code if the PD is unrelated to the experience with wild animals.
- Responses can be coded to more than one PD only if the best fitting PD does not encompass the whole psychological outcome that the participant describes.
- If there are more than one statement in the response, code each statement separately.
- Do not code references that participants make to other people’s psychological descriptions, e.g., their kids or companions or people in general as in the following quote. ‘many of the current generation of marine biologists were inspired to pursue such, from experience directly gained from the spectacles’ (This is not coded as it does not refer to the respondent themselves.)
|CODE||Esteem, Fulfilment||Love, Belonging, Connection||Perspective Gaining||Positive Emotions|
|Brief Definition||Improvement in one’s sense of self either with regard to self-esteem or feeling fulfilled.||Feeling loved and cared for or included or connected.||Gaining a different point of view or realisation or inspiration.||Reporting positive affect|
|Full descriptive definition as||Participant reporting that they gained a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. That they improved the way they see themselves or a goal they have achieved. That they feel fulfilled or psychologically/spiritually expanded in some way.||Participant feeling as though they belong or feel they have a place (on a macro or micro level- in the world, in nature, or in the current situation) |
Feeling ‘right’ or they ‘fit in’ or feel connected, to the animal or to nature.
|Participant describing how they gained a different way of looking at something, either micro or macro. From the way that the individual animal is seen, to a changing view of animals in general or nature.||Reporting of positive affect, feelings, emotions or impacts.|
|Guidelines for when to use||Must be a reference to how the participant feels about or within themselves or that they have further reached out towards a goal due to the encounter. |
Must refer to psychological/intellectual or spiritual expansion or gains.
Use when participant refers to the experience helping them feel fulfilled or accomplished (mentally, psychologically or spiritually)
Use when the person states they have achieved or are aspiring towards something they have always wanted to do because of the interaction.
Use when the person states they feel privileged, special, freedom, blessing, meaningful, profound, lucky, magical, religion, etc.
Use when the participant states their self-esteem or self-opinion has improved.
Use for reference to the importance of the event
e.g.“a big part of my life”.
Use for meaningful memories
e.g.“We still reminisce about it often”
|Use when reference is made to the animal experience engendering belonging towards the animal, themselves, nature or others. |
Feeling loved or passionate
Use for references to feeling connected, “at one”, or relationship terms such as friend, mate, etc. towards an animal.
|Use when a person describes a new way of seeing things as a result of the animal interaction|
Use if the person realises their place in the world relative to other animals or nature.
Use if a person is encouraged to behave differently or make an important change or decision
Use if person states they increased awareness or understanding or feel humbled
Use if the p
erson states an opinion that has been influenced by the experience.
Can be coded to more than one PD.
The following response is coded both to Perspective gaining and Esteem fulfilment:
“I was a child at the time and it helped inspire my future career choice.”
|Use for all happy emotions, including happy, joyful, calm, relaxed, excited, appreciative, wonder, awe, respect, hope|
|Guidelines for when not to use||Do not use for love or other positive emotions separate from how they feel about themselves. |
Do not use if the fulfilment of esteem/improvement is separate to their animal interaction.
Do not use if the person simply has learnt more at the time, but does not go on to find out more.
The following response is not coded to esteem/fulfilment because it does not refer to the interaction and only about awareness rather than and emotional or fulfillment feeling:
“more aware of public campaigns highlighting plights around the world”. (coded to Perspective Gaining)
|Do not use if love/belonging or connection is not referred to.|
Do not use if the description fits better with other positive emotions listed under ‘Positive emotions”
Do not use when a participant says they “Love” animals or nature, only when they feel love from the experience.
Do not use unless there is a feeling of connection or belonging. If the word connection is used but in terms of understanding rather than feeling for example:
“Understanding animals in their natural environment helps form an understanding of human connection and nature and ecosystems.”
This quote is coded as Perspective gaining rather than Love, belonging as it does not refer to the feeling
|Do not use this code if the response refers to positive emotions without any perspective, learning or changes gained. |
e.g., DO NOT USE for this response: “Seeing wild marine mammals makes me feel immensely privileged” (use instead Esteem, fulfilment)
Do not use for learning if the person says they learnt something but do not refer to being inspired/encouraged or triggered to learn beyond, because of the experience. See examples below:
USE this code: “This experience made me feel l have ... duties to help look after theatre surrounding me”.
DO NOT USE this code: “Greater understanding of this species” (Use Perspective Gaining instead )
|Do not use if the description fits better within love and belonging or esteem and fulfilment—refer those descriptions|
|Examples||“Simply stunning and life changing”|
“a blessing to encounter all of these majestic creatures.”
“Seeing wild marine mammals makes me feel immensely privileged”
“Being so close to the wild dolphins as they swam past brought to me a feeling of freedom and wholeness that I had not experienced before”
|“watching the whales, that I was part of their world and how glad I was to be in that position.” |
The above quote is coded at ‘love belonging’ as it refers to feeling ‘part of their world’ hence a sense of belonging
“I was welcomed into their environment”
“I felt I was one with them”
“I felt a total connection with the Dolphins”
|“part of nature coming together with humans in a non-intrusive threatening manner helped make me feel connected with the environment rather than an observer to it”|
“Feel that you are part of a ‘bigger picture”
“I realised just how big other animals are compared to me, and how precious they really are”
“nature and human can make life more harmonized”
|“Seeing wild animals in your natural environment makes you feel happy”|
“Inspirational and awe-inspiring”
“I liked it”
“I felt invigorated and energised”
“More appreciation for all parts of the marine ecosystem”
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|Interaction Patterns (IP)||Definition|
|Encountering animals that can harm||Encountering potentially harmful or hurtful aspects of nature involving animals|
|Encountering/watching wildlife||Coming across wildlife in nature and observing/watching/swimming with them (only used if no other IP is relevant)|
|Interacting with the periodicity of nature||Encountering animals doing their natural activities, engaged in periodic cycles, changes or enacting patterns|
|Reading the signs of nature||Information by observing/witnessing a specific aspect of wild animals that provides relevant or meaningful information, such as learning about behaviours or habitats|
|Recognizing & being recognized by a non-human other||Interpreting that there has been a sensory connection or acknowledgement with an animal|
|Psychological Description (PD)||Definition|
|Positive emotions||Reporting of positive affect, feelings, emotions or impacts.|
(happy, calm, excited, awed, appreciative, wonder, respectful etc)
|Esteem, fulfillment||Improvement in one’s sense of self with regard to self-esteem or feeling fulfilled. gaining a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment|
|Perspective gaining||Gaining a different point of view or realisation or inspiration. Gaining a different way of looking at something|
|Love, belonging, connection||Feeling loved, cared for, included or connected. Sense of belonging or fitting in—in the world, in nature, etc.|
|Encountering Animals That Can Harm||Encountering/Watching Wildlife||Interaction With the Periodicity of Nature||Reading the Signs of Nature||Recognising and Being Recognised by a Non-Human||Esteem, Fulfillment||Love, Belonging, Connection||Perspective Gaining||Positive Emotions|
|Encountering animals that can harm||17|
|Interaction with the periodicity of nature||0||2||35|
|Reading the signs of nature||0||14||1||120|
|Recognising and being recognised by a non-human other||0||1||4||2||97|
|Love, belonging, connection||0||15||4||3||6||3||122|
|Esteem, Fulfillment||Love, Belonging, Connection||Perspective Gaining||Positive Emotions|
|Encountering animals that can harm||-||-||“To be in their environment, floating so the dolphins approached you when they wanted was a little intimidating and made you feel very small and insignificant and even vulnerable”.||“I can enjoy the activities I take part in and not being terrified”|
|Encountering/watching wildlife||“surfing with dolphins—its what its all about. The spirituality of surfing is profound”.||“the fish communicated, we played hide and seek and chaseys. We were friends.”||“to see whales or dolphins in their own environment you realise that we have to protect the oceans so that they can have the best life possible”||“Swimming with marine animals is also an extremely peaceful experience”.|
|Interaction with the periodicity of nature||“Realised how lucky I was to live next to a body of water that whales visited. Was a very special moment.”||“Surfing with dolphins around makes me feel like we are connected in some way even if its in the simple act of using a wave for transport”||“Watching whale sharks and their understanding of how and why they were travelling gave me greater perspective”||“To see dolphins in their natural environment and enjoying riding waves is a beautiful thing. It makes me happy to see dolphins while I am surfing”|
|Reading the signs of nature||“When the dolphins approached, I swam under water and I could hear them calling … The only way to explain this is that the experience was magical”||“observing wild animals in their natural environment inspires me, affirms my love for nature”||“Seeing whales and dolphins in their natural environment made me feel connected to nature”||“it was awesome (in the literal sense) to be able to witness these fish in a feeding frenzy”|
|Recognising and being recognised by a non-human other||“marine animals like dolphins swimming and engaging with you freely, it is like a spiritual connection. In that you feel like they can understand you and you can understand them. Magical”||“creating a bond between the dolphin and myself”.||“Looking into the eye of a whale helps you understand its intelligence and inquisitiveness”||“They usually come and have a look, sometimes spy hop, mostly swim under and roll to their sides to check me out. Its always a highlight”|
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Yerbury, R.M.; Lukey, S.J. Human–Animal Interactions: Expressions of Wellbeing through a “Nature Language”. Animals 2021, 11, 950. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11040950
Yerbury RM, Lukey SJ. Human–Animal Interactions: Expressions of Wellbeing through a “Nature Language”. Animals. 2021; 11(4):950. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11040950Chicago/Turabian Style
Yerbury, Rachel M., and Samantha J. Lukey. 2021. "Human–Animal Interactions: Expressions of Wellbeing through a “Nature Language”" Animals 11, no. 4: 950. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11040950