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Exploring the relations between childhood experiences in nature and young adults' environmental attitudes and behaviours

Summary


Positive childhood experiences in nature are associated with pro-environmental attitudes in adults, but not necessarily with environmentally-friendly behaviors

This study explored connections between early childhood experiences in nature with young adults’ attitudes and actions towards the environment. This study also explored the influence of other potential factors on the participants’ environmental attitudes and actions. Previous studies – sometimes referred to as “significant life experiences” research – focused on how childhood experiences in nature may affect how people view and interact with nature as adults. This study adds a new dimension by exploring how consciousness may not be sufficient in and of itself to develop environmentally friendly behaviors.

Fifty university students (age 18–25) provided information about their experiences in nature as children and their views of, and actions towards, the environment in the present by completing a survey consisting of both open-ended and multiple-choice questions. The multiple-choice questions asked participants to select one or more choices describing their attitudes regarding their environmental behaviors or actions. Follow-up open-ended questions allowed participants to add to, elaborate on, or clarify their responses. However, few respondents answered these questions and they were not analyzed. Additional questions asked participants to provide information about their gender, economic status, urban/rural childhood environment, cultural/ethnic background, and family’s priority in caring for the environment. In analysis, the author compared percentages of responses related to attitudes and behaviors based on the above factors.

Findings identified connections between positive childhood experiences in nature and caring about the environment in adulthood. Most of the participants indicated that they loved or somewhat loved nature, with slightly more females than males stating that they loved nature. There were no significant differences across social classes in expressed love of nature. There were differences, however, between individuals who lived in a city and those who lived in a rural area, with the urban dwellers stating that they loved or somewhat loved nature more often than the rural dwellers. There were also differences in stated love of nature between the young adults who played in nature as children and those who did not. Those who played in nature identified themselves as lovers of nature while those who did not play in nature did not identify themselves as such. Those who loved nature also stated that they wanted to take care of it. Pro-environmental actions, however, did not necessarily align with attitudes towards the environment. Participants who stated they love nature and consider it a priority did not engage in more environmentally friendly actions than participants who held less caring views of nature.

The article concludes with recommendations on how both positive attitudes and actions towards the environment might be fostered in childhood. These recommendations include pairing experience in nature with reflection, critical engagement, and empowerment.

Citation

Broom, C., (2017). Exploring the relations between childhood experiences in nature and young adults' environmental attitudes and behaviours. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 33(1), 34-47.

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