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How contact with nature affects children’s biophilia, biophobia and conservation attitude in China


Experience enhances children’s positive attitudes toward nature and its conservation

This study aimed to assess how contact with nature affects Chinese children’s affinity for nature.  Conducted in China, participants included 1,119 children, ages 9-10, from 15 separate elementary schools.  Schools were selected based on where they fell along an urban-rural spectrum, primarily a reflection of population density, and included rural schools as well as schools in a range of small to large cities. The primary purpose of the study was to determine whether contact with nature would enhance children’s love of nature, whether absence of such contact would be associated with a fear of nature, and what effects those feelings might have on children’s attitudes toward conservation. This is the first study of its kind conducted in China. The authors discuss the importance of the research in the context of China’s rapidly-urbanizing landscape in which contact with nature is being reduced and its potential implications beyond China.

The authors used a mixed methods, primarily quantitative, approach for data collection.  Students were issued a survey that assessed the extent to which they felt motivated to protect common Chinese wild animals based on viewing preserved specimens in addition to a self-assessment of the frequency and kinds of activities in which they participated in contact with wild plants and animals.

The findings suggest that contact with nature plays an important role in children’s biophilia (defined as love for nature) and biophobia (defined as fear of nature). More contact was found to be significantly associated with greater affinity for nature; less contact was significantly associated with a greater aversion to or fear of nature. Love of nature in turn positively affected the children’s willingness to protect nature and wildlife through conservation efforts. Children in more rural areas had more contact with nature, and therefore a stronger positive feeling for nature, versus those in more urbanized settings, with the exception of one rural school whose community has become an ex-urban hub for manufacturing. There were also strong gender differences, in which boys had greater affinity for nature than girls and girls had more phobic responses.



Zhang, W., Goodale, E., Chen, J., (2014). How contact with nature affects children’s biophilia, biophobia and conservation attitude in China. Biological Conservation, 177, 109-116.


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