Nancy M. Wells
Nancy M. Wells
Senior Associate Dean for Research + Graduate Education, Professor
Human Centered Design
Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research

1300F Martha Van Rensselaer Hall ( MVR )


Nancy Wells is an environmental psychologist who studies people's relationship to the built and natural environment through the life course.  Her studies have focused on residential environments -- housing and neighborhoods -- and more recently schools.  Dr. Wells completed a joint PhD in Psychology and Architecture at the University of MIchigan; and then NIMH post-doctoral training at the University of California, Irvine.   

Professor Wells’ research examines in the effects of the built and natural environment on human health and well-being as well as the influence of environmental factors on both ecological behaviors and health-related behaviors such as dietary intake and physical activity.  Research conducted in the Wells Lab has focused on how housing quality affects mental health, how the natural environment influences psychological well-being and cognitive function, as well as how the design of neighborhoods (e.g., neotraditional design) and schools (e.g., school gardens) can affect physical activity and diet.  The work also includes the development of measures to operationalize environmental features or behavioral outcomes.  Dr. Wells is particularly interested in how the natural environment might contribute to human resilience, mitigate the negative effects of risk and adversity, and contribute to health equity.   Dr. Wells is also interested in how environmental design and policy together affect sustainable behaviors related to consumption, reuse, and conservation of resources.

Professor Wells teaches graduate Research Methods and courses focused on the influence of the environment on public health.  Her classes include the graduate seminar, Environments and Health (DEA 6610), Healthy Places (DEA 2700), graduate research methods (DEA 6560), and Health Impact Assessment (DEA 5560).  Dr. Wells strives to identify synergies in teaching, mentoring, research and outreach.  These connections are exemplified in the Wells research lab which serves as a teaching and mentorship laboratory aimed at doing research well, and doing good through research.  Nancy Wells' courses typically include a community engagement / outreach component to emphasize real world challenges and potential solutions. 

DEA 2700 : Healthy Places

DEA 6560 : Research Methods in Social Sciences

DEA 6610: Environments and Health

DEA 5560: Health Impact Assessment

Phillips, T. P., Wells, N.M., Brown, A., Tralins, J., and Bonter, D. (in press). Nature and Well-being: The association of nature engagement and well-being during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. People & Nature

Wells, NM, Todd, LE, Henderson, Jr., CR, Myers, BM, Barale, K., Gaolach, B, Ferenz, G, Aitken, M, Hendrix, L, Taylor, C, Wilkins, JL (2023).  The effects of school gardens on fruit and vegetable consumption at school: A randomized controlled trial with low-income elementary schools in four U.S. states.  Preventive Medicine Reports, 31, 102053 doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2022.102053

Cosco, NG, Wells, NM, Monsur, M, Goodell, LS, Zhang, D, Xu, T, Moore, RC (2022).  Hands-on childcare gardening intervention: A randomized controlled trial to assess effects on fruit and vegetable identification, liking, and consumption among children aged 3-5 years in North Carolina. Frontiers in Psychology, 13:993637 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.993637  

Cosco, NG, Wells, NM, Monsur, M, Goodell, L.S, Zhang, D, Xu, T, Hales, D, Moore, RC  (2021). Research Design, Protocol, and Participant Characteristics of COLEAFS:  A cluster randomized controlled trial of a childcare garden intervention. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Wells, N.M.  (2021). The natural environment as a resilience factor: Nature’s role as a buffer of the effects of risk and adversity. In: A. Schutte, J. Stevens & J. Torquati (Eds.), Nature and Psychology: How the Natural World Shapes our Cognition.  67th Annual Nebraska Symposium on Motivation.  The University of Nebraska. Springer Science + Business Media.

Michael, J, Wells, NM, Shahum, L, Bidigare-Curtis, HN, Greenberg, S, Tong, X (2021).  Roadway Safety, Design & Equity: A Paradigm Shift.  Journal of Transport & Health, 23, (Health Equity + Mobility, special issue) 101260

Li, D., Menotti, T. and Ding, Y., Wells, NM (2021).  Evaluating the Evidence for Life Course Nature Exposure and Mental Health Outcomes: A systematic review and Future Directions. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18 (10), 5146.

Aldred Cheek, KL and Wells, NM (2019).  Changing Behavior through Design: A lab fume hood closure experiment. Frontiers in the Built Environment, 5, 146

Curtis, DS, Fuller-Rowell, TE, Vilches, S, Vonasek, J & Wells, NM (2019).  Parks and recreation expenditures as a predictor of low birth weight incidence: Evidence from five periods of national birth records data. Preventive Medicine Reports.

Wells, NM Rollings, KA, Ong, AD, & Reid, MC (2019).  Nearby nature buffers the pain catastrophizing-pain intensity relation among urban residents with chronic pain. Frontiers in Built Environment, 5, 1-13. 

Razani, N, Niknam, K, Kennedy, G, Thompson, D, Hills, N, Wells, NM, Rutherford, G, and Gilgoff, R (2019).  Clinic and park partnerships for childhood resilience: a prospective study of park prescriptions. Health & Place, 57, 179-185.

Buxton, JA, Ryan RL, & Wells NM (2019).  Exploring Preferences for Urban Greening.  Cities and the Environment (CATE), 12 (1), article 3.

Rollings, KA & Wells, NM (2018).  Cafeteria Assessment for Elementary Schools (CAFES): Development, reliability testing, and predictive validity analysis. BMC Public Health, 18 (1), 1154. doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-6032-2

Pinter-Wollman, N., Jelik A., & Wells, N.M. (2018).  The impact of the built environment on health behaviors and disease transmission in social systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B., 373 (1753), 20170245.

Wells, N. M., Myers, B. M., Todd, L. E., Henderson, C. R., Barale, K., Gaolach, B., Ferenz, G., Aitken, M, Tse, C.C., Pattison, K.O., Hendrix, L., Carson, J.B., Taylor, J.B., & Franz, N.K. (2018). The carry-over effects of school gardens on fruit and vegetable availability at home: A randomized controlled trial with low-income elementary schools. Preventive Medicine, 112, 152-159.

Razani, N., Morshed, S., Kohn, M., Wells, NM, Thompson, D., Alqassari, M., Agodi, A., Long, D., Rutherford, G. (2018). Effect of park prescriptions with and without group visits to parks on stress reduction in low-income parents: SHINE randomized trial.  PLoSONE, 13 (2), e0192921.

Brittin J, Frerichs L, Sirard JR, Wells NM, Myers BM, Garcia J, Sorensen D, Trowbridge MJ, Huang TTK (2017).  Impact of Active School Design on School-Time Sedentary Behavior and Physical Activity:  A Pilot Natural Experiment.  PLoSONE 12(12): e0189236. doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0189236

Rollings, K.A., Wells, N.M., Evans, G.W., Bednarz, A., & Yang, Y. (2017).  Housing and neighborhood physical quality: children ‘s mental health and learned helplessness.  Journal of Environmental Psychology, 50, 17-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2017.01.004

Todd, L.E., Wells, N.M., Wilkins, J.L., & Echon, R.M. (2017).  Digital Food Image Analysis as a measure of children’s fruit and vegetable consumption in the elementary school cafeteria: A description and critique.  Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 4, 516-528.  doi: 10.1080/19320248.2016.1275996

Rollings, K.A. & Wells, N.M. (2017).  Effects of residential kitchen floor plan openness on eating behaviors.  Environment & Behavior, 49(6). doi 10.1177/0013916516661822

Pillemer, K., Wells, N.M., Meador, R.H., Schultz, L., Henderson, C.R., Cope, M.T. (2017).  Engaging Older Adults in Environmental Volunteerism: The Retirees in Service to the Environment (RISE) Program. The Gerontologist, 57 (2), 367-375.  doi: 10.1093/geront/gnv693.

Razani, N., Kohn, M.A., Wells, N.M., Thompson, D., Flores, H.H., Rutherford, G.W. (2016).  Design and evaluation of a park prescription program for stress reduction and health promotion in low-income families: the Stay Healthy in Nature Everyday (SHINE) study protocol. Contemporary Clinical Trials, 51, 8-14. doi: 10.1016/j.cct.2016.09.007

Myers, B.M. & Wells, N.M. (2015). Children’s physical activity while gardening: development of a valid and reliable direct observation tool.  Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 12 (4), 522-528.

Rollings, K.A., Wells, N.M., Evans, G.W. (2015).  Measuring physical neighborhood quality related to health.  Behavioral Sciences, 5, 190-202. doi: 10.3390/bs5020190

Demment, M., Wells, N., and Olson, C. (2015). Associations between the rural middle school nutrition and physical activity environment, family income trajectory, and change in BMI z-scores during adolescence. Journal of School Health, 85(2), 100-108.

Wells, N.M., Myers, B.M., & Henderson, C.R. (2014).  School gardens & physical activity: A randomized controlled trial of low-income elementary schools. Preventive Medicine, 69S, S27-S33.  

Olson, C.M., Baker, I., Demment, M., Graham, M., May, J., Strawderman, M., Wells, N.M. (2014). The healthy start partnership: An approach to obesity prevention in young families.  Family and Community Health, 37 (1), 74-85. 

Wells, N.M. (2013).  The role of nature in children's resilience: cognitive and social processes.  In: K. Tidball & M. Krasny (Eds.) Greening in the Red Zone.  Springer.

Wells, N.M. and Lekies, K.S. (2012).  Children and nature:  following the trail to environmental attitudes and behavior. In: J. Dickinson and R. Bonney (Eds.) Citizen Science: public collaboration in environmental research.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 

Wells, N.M. & Rollings, K.A. (2012).  The natural environment: Influences on human health and function.  In S. Clayton (Ed.) The handbook on Environmental and Conservation Psychology.  Oxford University Press.

Wells, N.M. & Donofrio, G.A.  (2011). Urban planning, the natural environment, and public health.  In: J.O. Nriagu (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, volume 5, pp.565-575. Burlington: Elsevier

Pillemer, K., Wells, N.M., Wagenet, L., Meador, R.H. and Parise, J.T. (2011). Environmental sustainability in an aging society: A research agenda.  The Journal of Aging and Health, 23(3), 433-452. doi: 10.1177/0898264310381278

Gantner, L.A., Olson, C.M., Frongillo, E., Wells, N.M. (2011).  Prevalence of non-traditional food stores and distance to healthy foods in a rural food environment.  Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 6, 279-293.

Wells, N.M., Evans, G.W., Beavis, A. & Ong, A.D. (2010). Early childhood poverty, cumulative risk exposure, and weight gain trajectories through young adulthood. American Journal of Public Health. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.184291

Wells, N.M., Evans, G.W. and Yang, Y. (2010). Environment and health: Planning decisions as public health decisions. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 27 (2), 124-143. 

Pillemer, K. A. Fuller-Rowell, T. Reid C. & Wells N.M. (2010). Environmental volunteering and health outcomes over a twenty-year period. The Gerontologist, 50(5), 594-602. 

Wells, N.M. and Laquatra, J. (2010). Why green housing and green neighborhoods are important to the health and well-being of older adults. Generations. 33(4), 50-57. 

Wells, N.M. and Yang, Y. (2008). Neighborhood Design & Walking: A quasi-experimental longitudinal study of low-income Southern women moving to neotraditional or suburban neighborhoods. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 34(4), 313-319. 

Wells, N.M. and Harris, J.D. (2007). Housing quality, psychological distress, and the mediating role of social withdrawal: A longitudinal study of low-income women. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27, 69-78. 

Brown, B.B. and Wells, N.M. (Eds.) (2007).  Environment, physical activity, and diet. Special Issue of Environment and Behavior, 39 (1). 

Wells, N.M., Ashdown, S.P., Davies, E.H.S., Cowett, F.D. and Yang, Y. (2007). Environment, Design and Obesity: Opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborative research. Environment and Behavior, 39 (1), 6 - 33. 

Wells, N.M. and Olson, C.M. (2007).  The Ecology of Obesity: Perspectives from life course, design and economics.  Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 1 (3), 99-129.

Wells, N.M. and Lekies, K.S. (2006). Nature and the Life Course: Pathways from childhood nature experiences to adult environmentalism. Children, Youth, and Environment, 16 (1), 1-24. 

Wells, N.M. & Evans, G.W. (2003) Nearby Nature: A buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment and Behavior, 35 (3), 311-330. 



Nancy Wells is a member of the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) and the International Association for People - Environment Studies (IAPS).  She is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences related to the benfits of nature on human health.

Although Dr. Wells does not have an extension appointment, nearly all her projects include an extension and outreach components.  

Senior Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education, College of Human Ecology

Department Extension / Engagement Leader (DEL), Design + Environmental Analysis

PhD, Psychology and Architecture, University of Michigan

NIMH post-doctoral fellowship, School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine

Master's degree, Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University

Bachelor's degree, Psychology, Connecticut College

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