Biodiversity behaviors Connection to nature Conservation science Spotlight

The connection between nature connectedness and pro-environmental behaviour

Whitburn, J., Linklater, W., Abrahamse, W. (2019). Meta-analysis of human connection to nature and proenvironmental behavior. Conservation Biology. 0, 1-14, https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13381.

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:

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.

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