In a nutshell: A meta-analysis demonstrates a positive, moderate association between human connection to nature and pro-environmental behaviour across different connection-to-nature scales. More research needed to demonstrate causation.
Understanding the association between connection to nature and pro-environmental behaviours is key for encouraging behaviour change for conservation, and indeed previous research has demonstrated that there is a relationship between these two factors. However, there is a large number of nature connectedness scales being used, some measuring different dimensions of connection to nature, for example:
- Emotional affinity towards nature (Kals et al. 1999)
- Inclusion of nature in self (Schultz 2002)
- Environmental identity (Clayton 2003)*
- Connectedness to nature (Mayer & Frantz 2004)
- Connectivity with nature (Dutcher et al. 2007)
- Commitment to the natural environment (Davis et al. 2009)
- Nature relatedness (Nisbet et al. 2009, Nisbet & Zelenski 2013)*
- Love and care for nature (Perkins 2010)
- Disposition to connect with nature (Brügger et al. 2011)*
- Dispositional empathy with nature (Tam 2013)
- Environmental connectedness (Beery & Wolf-Watz 2014)
Because of this, the authors of this study carried out a meta-analysis on studies (n = 26 studies, n = 13,237 individuals, from 11 mostly western countries) assessing the relationship between an individual’s connection to nature and pro-environmental behaviour, defining the latter as “actions which contribute to environmental protection and/or conservation”.
The authors found that overall there is a positive, and moderate association between these two factors. However, the relationship was moderated (affects direction and/or strength) by both the specific connection to nature scale and pro-environmental behaviour scale used. For instance:
- The relationship between connection to nature and pro-environmental behaviour was strongest using the commitment to the environment scale and weakest with the inclusion of nature in self scale.
- Overall the association was stronger with multi-dimensional nature connectedness scales that contained affect, cognition, and behaviour items (scales marked with * above); nature connectedness scales with a moderate amount of items (20–29); and pro-environmental scales based on Whitmarsh and O’Neill (2010).
- The association was strongest in children (as compared to students and adults).
This study shows that an individual’s level of connection with nature may influence their level of engagement in pro-environmental behaviours. The importance of multidimensional scales, including affect, cognition and behaviour, suggests that measures to increase pro-environmental behaviour need to focus on all of these factors to be effective. However, more research is needed to clearly demonstrate causation.