Why Adventure?

fencingWhy Adventure? The Role and Value of Outdoor Adventure in young people’s personal and social development (UK)

A Review of Research by Jon Barrett and Roger Greenaway commissioned by the Foundation for Outdoor Adventure, 1995.

Main FindingsMost empirical studies of outdoor adventure have concentrated on examining behavioural and psychological outcomes. Some of the most thorough outcome research is found in the youth social work field.

Personal Development


  • Some kinds of outdoor adventure can cause short-term enhancement of aspects of self-concept (including gains in self-esteem and self-efficacy), and can cause short-term improvements in internalisation of locus of control. These gains appear to be more significant on longer adventure programmes.
  • Various developmental benefits are associated with regular physical exercise (such as regular outdoor adventure experiences can provide), e.g.. humour, patience, energy, optimism, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-assurance, emotional stability, improved body-image, etc.
  • Direct experience of the natural environment, such as outdoor adventure may offer, can have significant mental and physical health benefits, can enhance self-esteem and self-confidence, and can provide opportunities for spiritual development.

Social Development

  • Strong anecdotal evidence indicates that outdoor adventure experiences can enhance interpersonal relationships and improve socialisation, and can facilitate group bonding and co-operation.
  • Outdoor adventure can help to reduce formality in relationships and develop more human relationships and awareness between young people, and between young people and staff.

Whilst outdoor adventure can cause the above positive developmental outcomes, it is important to note that these do not automatically arise from outdoor adventure. Studies investigating causal links between processes and outcomes have rarely been conducted. Nevertheless, some process factors have emerged as being of central importance.

  • Research about effective leadership styles in adventure generally favours a facilitative style in which personal and social development are emphasised. Research indicates that staff require training in interpersonal skills especially if they intend to enhance those of others.
  • Research about the effects of group experiences on personal and social development emphasises the value of small groups in which group support, co-operation and reciprocity may be facilitated.
  • Appropriate selection, group mix and composition are important, particularly with young people experiencing difficulties in their lives.
  • Research emphasises the importance of a supportive learning environment where young people are able to (for example) express their emotions, learn collaboratively and take responsibility for their own development.
  • The beneficial outcomes of outdoor adventure appear to be most lasting when outdoor adventure experiences are regular and long-term and are linked to community-based follow-up. Research has demonstrated the value of outdoor adventure as an adjunct to community-based developmental and educational provision.

Outdoor adventure programmes working with young people with behavioural and psychological difficulties generally appear to require higher levels of staff facilitation, close attention to appropriate selection and targeting, and reinforcement by long-term community based interventions appropriate to young people’s interests and needs.

Link to further information about: Why Adventure? The Role and Value of Outdoor Adventure in young people’s personal and social development