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How can we mitigate against increasing biophobia among children during the extinction of experience?

Summary


The loss of direct interactions between humans and nature could result in more negative attitudes towards the natural world, yet there may be ways to counteract this outcome

This study was based on the understanding that the loss of direct interactions between people and nature – sometimes referred to as “the extinction of experience” – may lead to negative attitudes (“biophobia”) towards nature. Such negative attitudes, which include the fear and dislike of living things, can lead to a reduced motivation to protect wildlife. This study explored several factors possibly influencing children’s levels of biophobia towards common invertebrates (insects and spiders) in Japan.

Over 5000 fifth- and sixth-grade students from 45 different schools in Japan completed surveys addressing four primary topics: (1) attitudes towards invertebrates (biophobia); (2) frequency of direct experiences with nature; (3) familiarity with invertebrates; and (4) family members’ attitudes towards invertebrates.  Four questions on the survey addressed biophobia in relation to 15 different invertebrates (insects and spiders) commonly found in Japan. These questions measured children’s levels of biophobia with four types of emotional attributes: dislike, disgust, fear, and perceived danger. Other questions on the survey asked students to share information about how adult members in their families felt about invertebrates: Were they scared of invertebrates? Would they say that invertebrates are gross and disgusting?

Over 46% of the children reported that they did not like most (more than half) of the 15 invertebrates; almost 40% found most of them disgusting; more than 26% of the children thought that most of the invertebrates were scary; and almost 9% thought they were dangerous. Children with more frequent experiences with nature reported significantly lower levels of dislike, disgust, fear, and perceived danger towards invertebrates. Children who reported being more knowledgeable about invertebrates were also far more likely to have lower levels of dislike, disgust, fear, and perceived danger towards invertebrates. Children whose adult family members had negative attitudes about invertebrates were likely to have negative attitudes as well. These attitudes included dislike, disgust, fear, and perceived danger. Higher levels of urbanization surrounding the schools where students attended was significantly linked to increased levels of fear and perceived danger towards invertebrates. There were some differences related to gender, but not age. Male students were less likely to demonstrate dislike, disgust, fear, and perceive danger of invertebrates than females.

These findings support the idea that the loss of direct interactions between humans and nature could result in more negative attitudes towards the natural world. This research also reveals several ways in which the trend of increasing biophobia might be moderated. Factors which could play a role in mitigating biophobia include educating children about nature, increasing greenness around schools, and providing adult-oriented programs designed to enhance positive attitudes towards wildlife. Efforts to mitigate against increasing biophobia in children may lead to better conservation outcomes in the future.

Citation

Soga, M., Evans, M.J., Yamanoi, T., Fukano, Y., Tsuchiya, K., Koyanagi, T.F., Kanai, T., (2020). How can we mitigate against increasing biophobia among children during the extinction of experience?. Biological Conservation, 242

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