Examining the Influence of Outdoor Recreation, Employment, and Demographic Variables on the Human-Nature Relationship
Over the past several years a number of instruments, referred to in this paper as connection to nature indicators, have been developed to describe in a quantitative manner people’s relationship with nature. This area of interest was initiated with the development of the New Environmental Paradigm (Dunlap & Van Liere, 1978; Dunlap, Van Liere, Mertig, & Jones, 2000) and has expanded over the years to includes multiple indicators, such as the Environmental Identity Scale (Clayton, 2003), Love and Care for Nature (Perkins, 2010), and the Disposition to Connect with Nature (Brügger, Kaiser, & Roczen, 2011), which measure different facets of the human-nature relationship. The indicators have been tested in many studies and have been established as effectively reflecting an aspect of people’s relationship with nature and related environmental behaviors/views, such as rates of recycling, energy conservation, and other pro-environmental actions/views (Beery, 2013; Clayton, 2012; Frantz & Mayer, 2014; Frantz, Mayer, Norman, & Rock, 2005; Geng, Xu, Ye, Zhou, & Zhou, 2015; Howell, Dopko, Passmore, Buro, 2011; Mayer & Frantz, 2004; Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy, 2009; Perrin & Benassi, 2009; Tam, 2013). This current research provided insight into how four connection to nature indicators performed in a survey of conservation gardeners, with respect to their outdoor recreation pursuits, employment status, and demographic characteristics. By examining the correlations between indicators and behavioral and demographic variables, we can provide a better understanding of the nuances of the indicators.
Overview of Instruments
The Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS), the Nature Relatedness Scale (NR), the Environmental Motives Scale (EM), and the Inclusion of Nature in Self Scale (INS) were the indicators employed in this study. The selection of indicators was based on the concept/s measured by the indicator in addition to the length and ease of use of indicator, in reference to the conservation gardening population. Of interest was their emotional connection, motivation for environmental concern, experience in nature, and view of nature in reference to people/themselves. The indicators selected provided for examination of different concepts without being redundant or too time consuming for participants to complete. The following serves as an overview of the indicators employed in this study, for an expanded examination of the indicators see Cartwright (2016). Table 1 Provides a summary of the indicators used in this study.
Connectedness to Nature Scale. The CNS is a Likert-based instrument composed of 14 statements designed to gauge an individual’s emotional connection to nature (Mayer & Frantz, 2004). Examples of Likert-based statements in the CNS are: ‘I often feel a sense of oneness with the natural world.’ ‘I feel as though I belong to the Earth as equally as it belongs to me.’ and ‘I often feel a kinship with animals and plants.’ In prior studies, the CNS has been demonstrated to reflect pro-ecological behavior, environmentalism, psychological and social well-being, tendency to anthropomorphize nature, and willingness to participate in a wildlife gardening program (Frantz & Mayer, 2014; Frantz, Mayer, Norman, & Rock, 2005; Geng, Xu, Ye, Zhou, & Zhou, 2015; Howell, Dopko, Passmore, Buro, 2011; Mayer & Frantz, 2004; Olivos, Aragonés, & Amérigo, 2011; Shaw, Miller, & Wescott, 2013; Tam, Lee, & Chao, 2013). Although many authors have supported the concept that the CNS measures an emotional connection, there are studies that have suggested it measures a cognitive connection to nature instead (Beery, 2013; Perrin & Benassi, 2009).
Summary of Connection to Nature Indicators Used in the Survey of Conservation Gardeners
|Connectedness to Nature (CNS)||
|Environmental Motives (EM)||
|Nature Relatedness (NR)||
|Inclusion of Nature in Self (INS)||
Nature Relatedness Scale. The NR is a Likert-based instrument, composed of 21 statements, that produces four different values: an overall score, a Self score, a Perspective score, and an Experience score. The NR and its subscales provide a measurement of how individuals view themselves in comparison to using nature, being in nature, and their self in comparison to the entity of nature. Nisbet, Zelenski, and Murphy (2009) developed the indicator to evaluate an individual’s affective, cognitive, and physical relationship with nature. Likert statements used to reflect the different concepts include the following: ‘I am not separate from nature, but a part of nature.’ ‘Animal, birds, and plants, have fewer rights than humans.’ and ‘I enjoy being outdoors, even in unpleasant weather.’ The NR has been demonstrated to reflect environmental behaviors, time spent outside, time in nature, and it was comparable with other human-nature indicators (Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy, 2009).
Environmental Motives Scale. The EM provides a reflection of what entities motivate an individual’s concern with nature, as opposed to a connection with nature (Schultz, 2001). The EM is composed of 12 terms (e.g., birds, whales, children, my health) that gauge a person’s motivation related to non-human species (Biospheric), other people (Altruistic), and their self (Egoistic). The breakdown of motivation into these categories is supported by work conducted by multiple studies (Schultz, 2000; Schultz, 2001; Stern, 2000; Stern & Dietz, 1994). The Biospheric subscale of the EM was positively correlated with the CNS in research by Mayer and Frantz (2004).
Inclusion of Nature in Self Scale. The INS, also developed by Schultz (2001), is a visual representation of the concept of ‘Self’ and ‘Nature’ in Venn-style diagrams representing greater and greater degree of overlap between the two entities. The INS has been demonstrated to reflect environmental attitude/behavior and correlate with other connection to nature indicators (Mayer & Frantz, 2004; Schultz, 2001; Schultz, Shriver, Tabanico, & Khazian, 2004; Tam, 2013).
One hundred randomly selected individuals in each of three conservation gardening certification programs were mailed a four-page questionnaire, estimated to take 15 minutes to complete, composed of the four connection to nature indicators followed by sections pertaining to outdoor recreation interests, affiliation with the National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Program, age, gender, income, educational background, and employment status. The programs selected were the Conservation@Home program coordinated through Conserve Lake County, located in Grayslake, Illinois, the Backyard Habitat Certification program co-managed by the Columbia Land Trust, located in Vancouver, Washington, and the Audubon Society of Portland, located in Portland, Oregon, and the Certified Wildlife Habitat program, a partnership between the Delaware Nature Society, located in Hockessin, Delaware and the National Wildlife Federation.
This paper presents the correlation results between the connection to nature indicators and outdoor recreation, employment status, and other demographic variables examined. For a full review of the study see Cartwright (2016). Data from each connection to nature indicator were evaluated for internal consistency using Cronbach’s alpha. Following this, the mean (M) and standard deviation (SD) were calculated, both among programs and as a pooled data set. Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was used on the connection to nature indicator data to evaluate the suitability of pooled analysis. Correlation analysis was used to determine relationships between the indicators and outdoor recreation categories, employment status, and other demographic variables. All statistical analysis was performed using SPSS Version 22.
The response rate was 77% pooled across populations. In addition to a high rate of return, the majority of questionnaires were completed accurately and completely. All indicators were deemed acceptable in terms of internal consistency, and analysis supported pooling the three populations into one data set (Cartwright, 2016).
Brief Population Description
The participants tended to be well-educated, above-average earners, pet owners, volunteers, and female. Employment status was roughly divided between homemaker, retired, and employed, either full-time or self-employed. Gardening, bird watching, and hiking were all common outdoor recreation pursuits, as were, to a lesser degree, kayaking and cycling. The participants in the study scored high across all connection to nature indicators, demonstrating a strong multi-faceted connection to nature. The pooled M and SD are presented in Table 2. On the majority of indicators, the SD was relatively low, demonstrating cohesiveness in human-nature relatedness amongst the participants.
Relationships between Indicators and Variables
The highest number of significant correlations was found between the indicators and the outdoor recreation activities, highlighted in Table 3. Multiple indicators shared similar results. NR and Self had significant relationships with day hiker, bird watcher, and kayaker/canoeist. The highest number of significant correlations occurred in the bird watcher category, which had positive correlations with CNS, Biospheric, NR, Self, and INS. The Experience subscale of the NR had the strongest correlations with outdoor recreation activities such as backpacker, camper, and kayaker/canoeist. Several activities had negative correlations with indicators, only one of which was significant. Hunter and the NR subscale, Perspective, were weakly correlated, rs = -.062, p < .05; hunter and Experience was the only positive significant correlation for hunter, rs = .229, p < .01. The only indicator that did not have any significant relationships was the Egoistic subscale of the EM.
There were few significant correlations between the connection to nature indicators and the employment and responsibility categories. As outlined in Table 4, six relationships were significant, and all were relatively weak. Volunteer was the only category with a trend; it was positively correlated with NR, Self, and Experience. The only significant negative relationship was between full-time employment and INS, rs = -.156, p < .05.
Similarly, few significant correlations were demonstrated between the indicators and the demographic variables, represented in Table 5. Gender demonstrated a few weak relationships; being female was positively associated with CNS, Self, and Perspective. Income was negatively associated with CNS, NR, and Perspective. Age was positively, but weakly, correlated with the INS, rs = .191, p < .05. Neither pet ownership nor education had significant correlations.
Analysis of Means for Each Connection to Nature Indicator Pooled from the Survey of Conservation Gardeners
Note. Italics indicates values after standardization to a 5-point scale.
Correlation Coefficients between Connection to Nature Indicators and Outdoor Recreation Activity Participation from the Survey of Conservation Gardeners
|Indicator||Gardener||Day hiker||Cyclist||Bird watcher||Backpacker||Camper||Kayaker||Angler||Hunter|
Note. * p < .05. ** p < .01.
Correlation Coefficients between Connection to Nature Indicators and Daily Responsibilities from the Survey of Conservation Gardeners
|Degree seeking student||.008||-.080||-.056||-.023||-.074||-.085||.017||-.120||-.042|
|Not employed-not looking||-.022||.026||-.018||.040||-.009||-.009||-.070||.077||.056|
Note. * p < .05. ** p < .01.
Correlation Coefficients between Connection to Nature Indicators and Demographic Variables from the Survey of Conservation Gardeners
Note. * p < .05. ** p < .01.
Relationships between Connection to Nature Indicators and Variables
Four connection to nature indicators were employed in this study, two of which contained subscales, providing for the evaluation of nine different parameters in relationship to the recreation, employment, and other demographic variables. The participants consistently scored high across the indicators, demonstrating a strong multi-faceted connection to nature. However, there were differences between the scales in relation to the recreation, employment, and demographic variables. The following discussion examines what these differences may reveal about the participants in this population and the nuances of the indicators.
Influence of outdoor recreation categories. Of the variables examined, the outdoor recreation categories had the strongest influence on the human-nature relationship, as gauged by the indicators. The Experience subscale of the NR had the highest number of significant correlations and the strongest relationships with the recreation categories. The Experience subscale reflects an individual’s physical relationship with nature. With the exception of bird watching, all recreation activities were significantly related to the Experience subscale, and those that required more equipment or distance from home base showed a stronger correlation. Multiple significant relationships with this subscale suggest that as a group conservation gardeners are comfortable in nature and partake in activities that encourage physical interaction with the non-built environment.
As bird watching can be done in a backyard setting from inside the house, it is reasonable that people who identified as bird watchers did not score high on the Experience subscale. Although bird watching was not related to the Experience subscale, it had the highest number of significant correlations with other indicators. Based on the correlations, being a bird watcher relates to an emotional connection with nature or a view of being close to or part of nature. In fact, bird watcher was the only activity to have a significant relationship with the CNS score. As previously discussed, the CNS reflects a level of oneness with nature, so watching birds, either at a feeder, in backyard habitat, or nature preserves, may inherently link to that sense of oneness. People who identified as bird watcher or day hiker scored higher on the Biospheric subscale of the EM compared to other activities. Bird watching and hiking center on feeling as one with or observing nature, hence other species, and would logically relate to an individual’s environmental concern being motivated by non-human species. With few exceptions, the correlations between day hiker and bird watcher, and the indicators were similar, suggesting that although these are two different participant groups, they may share a similar viewpoint toward nature.
Gardening was not significantly related to either the CNS or Biospheric subscale; the lack of a significant correlation with these indicators may be due to the prevalence of gardening as an activity. However, gardening did have significant relationships with the Self and Experience subscales of the NR, and the Altruistic subscale of the EM. Gardening was the only activity that was significantly related to the Altruistic subscale. Although one would expect gardening to relate to the Biospheric subscale, a connection between concern for others and gardening was demonstrated.
The relationship between gardening and altruism supports an underlying principle in the fields of horticulture therapy and community gardening, that gardening and taking care of plants can result in a person being more inclined to take care of themselves and other people (e.g., Hale, Marlowe, Mattson, Nicholson, & Dempsey, 2005; Hoffman, Thompson, & Cruz, 2004; Messer Diehl, 2009; Okvat & Zautra, 2011; Twill, Purvis, & Norris, 2011; Wang & Macmillan, 2013). This concept is supported by studies examining altruistic tendencies in comparison to natural habitats. Zhang, Piff, Iyer, Koleva, and Keltner (2014) determined that exposure to natural places that are perceived by people as more beautiful, compared to natural places perceived as less beautiful, led to more prosocial behavior, quantified by level of agreeableness, empathy, and helping behaviors. In addition, Zhang, Piff, Iyer, Koleva, and Keltner (2014) concluded that a tendency to appreciate natural beauty and a positive outlook on life moderated prosocial behavior. Building upon this idea, Guéguen and Stefan (2016) demonstrated that a brief immersion in an urban natural green space, e.g., walking through a park, can increase people’s tendency to help other people. By applying these principles to the conservation gardening population, we propose that conservation gardeners, because of their connection and motivation toward nature and related activities, most likely find beauty in nature, and that because they partake in gardening they are by default spending time in nature. By interpreting these ideas, it is logical that the people who identified as gardeners demonstrated a positive correlation with the altruistic scale. We think the altruistic tendency is an important point to recognize when applying the concept of urban gardens and conservation gardening to other populations because it demonstrates that conservation gardening can go beyond improving habitat for wildlife; conservation gardening may lead to people being more concerned about other people’s welfare and treating other people better.
Interesting results were found with respect to the NR and Self subscales and the recreations categories. Individuals who identified as day hiker, bird watcher, and kayaker tended to score higher on the NR and Self subscale, reflecting that those individuals see themselves as close to nature on an affective and cognitive level. Differing results were found with gardening, which was related to the Self subscale, and camper, which was related to the NR. Some recreation categories, such as cycling and backpacking, were not significantly related to the NR nor Self subscale, although they had similar correlation coefficients, suggesting similarities in those groups and their relationship with nature. These results demonstrated that although similar, the NR and Self subscale reflect differences in the population and the influence of recreational activities on the human-nature relationship. Although it appears that participants who scored higher on the Self subscale participated in activities that promote an intimate level of engagement with nature, the trend is not consistent. It is unclear why some recreation categories, such as backpacking and camping, lack a significant relationship with the Self subscale; further research will be needed to examine the intricacies of these relationships.
Consumptive activities. Although the sample size for hunters and anglers was low, a non-significant negative relationship was observed between multiple indicators and these activities, more so for hunting. In our experience, hunters and anglers have a strong connection to nature, but it may be different from what the indicators measure. This may be a result of the indicators exploring the idea of equality among species and a sense of oneness with nature. The hunters and anglers that we have known gain a sense of purpose from being in the out-of-doors, but they have not necessarily expressed a sense of equality or kinship with non-human species. This concept might be better quantified by looking at a person’s connection to the land, or stewardship of the environment, as opposed to the concept of nature or equality with non-human entities. Further research with a larger sample size representing differing cultural backgrounds would be illuminating to explore the relationship between consumptive activities and the human-nature relationship.
Nuances of the indicators. The difference in correlation results between the NR, CNS, EM, and INS in relation to the recreation activities supports the idea that these scales reflect different attributes. Although there was a high connection to nature expressed across the population, the indicators reflected different human-nature attributes in reference to the recreation categories. Compared to the NR, the CNS, EM subscales, and INS did not correlate as consistently to participation in outdoor recreation activities. The CNS, INS, and Biospheric subscale of the EM may reflect an internal emotional or cognitive connection to nature and other species, which may or may not be represented in a person’s behavior. The NR, and the associated subscales, may be measuring a more direct relationship to outdoor experiences, which seems to be an interest in the conservation gardening population. Within the NR, the Perspective subscale provided a unique view into the conservation gardening population.
The Perspective subscale did not follow the same trends as reflected by the Self, Experience, or overall NR score; many of the relationships between the Perspective subscale and the recreation categories were negative, and one of which, hunter, was significant. In comparison to the overall NR score or the Self subscale, the Perspective subscale, according to Nisbet and colleagues (2009), measures a nature-related worldview and concern for how human actions influence living organisms. At first, the fact that this subscale was not positively correlated with the outdoor recreation categories was perplexing.
The statements within the Perspective subscale section relate to the worldview of humans and nature and bring in aspects of control, rights, and hierarchy. Another distinction between the Perspective subscale and the other NR sections is that it contains more negatively-stated, reversed-scored items compared to the other two subscales, which may generate inaccurate and inconsistent responses (Barnette, 2000). Perhaps, the aspect of control and rights in relation to humans has the effect of influencing a lower score; the one significant relationship related to the Perspective subscale supports this concept. Hunters are individuals who use the environment for a direct purpose, and the statements within the Perspective measure opposition against using the environment for human benefit. A higher score on the Perspective subscale reflects a view that people should have limited consumptive use of nature for human benefit. A higher score also infers equality between human and non-human species, and reflects a lack of control over nature by people. Therefore, individuals who are active in outdoor recreation behaviors that include more physical interaction with the environment, or taking of wildlife species as part of an activity, might have a slightly lower Perspective score; these individuals have a view that agrees with the use of nature and wildlife species by humans.
This concept may explain the relationship observed in the correlation analysis of the NR subscales in respect to each other. In respect to the Experience subscale, the highest correlation was with the overall NR scale, .689, followed by the Self subscale, .450, and the Perspective subscale, .219 (Cartwright, 2016). This correlation presents and interesting relationship. Although there was an overall positive relationship between Experience and Perspective, there may be a possible inverse sub-relationship between the Experience of an individual and their Perspective score, when compared to other nature relatedness concepts. Individuals who have more experience in nature have a view that equates to human use of the natural world, hence, a lower score on the Perspective subscale. This idea could be further tested by using different statements that gauge a perspective concept, without being quite as polarizing. In addition, restructuring the statements so that not as many of them were reverse-scored would be useful, as this may also negatively influence participant’s responses.
The Egoistic subscale of the EM was the only indicator that did not have significant correlations with recreation categories; this scale measures the motivation for environmental concern based on one’s own interests. Participants scored significantly lower on the Egoistic subscale than other scales. We had not expected the Egoistic subscale to be positively correlated with the immersive recreation categories because, in general, one does not think of recreation being motivated by personal gain or benefit, although we recognize the physical and mental health benefits provided by outdoor recreation.
Limited relationships between indicators and daily responsibilities. The only trend apparent related to the volunteer category. Volunteer was significantly positively correlated to the NR, and, Self and Experience subscales, demonstrating that people who identified as volunteers have experience in nature and see themselves as close to nature. Surprisingly, volunteering was not positively correlated with the Altruistic subscale of the EM, which is a measure of environmental concern motivated by other people. This is further reason to examine volunteers within the population to determine how/where individuals spend their volunteer hours. The lack of numerous significant relationships on the employment and responsibility categories suggests that how one spends his or her day, in terms of employment status or responsibilities, has little impact on their connection to nature or motivation for environmental concern.
Relationships between indicators and demographic variables. Although there were limited significant relationships, the data revealed some trends. Age demonstrated a significant relationship; the INS reflected an increase in the perceived closeness between nature and self as age increased; this was not demonstrated by other indicators. This means that older participants perceived a higher the overlap between the concepts of nature and self, compared to younger participants. Because the INS demonstrated a view of equality with nature in addition to a level of closeness, this may mean that as people in this group get older the division between what is human and what is nature becomes blurred and they view people as a part of or the same as nature. Gender demonstrated significant relationships. With respect to the CNS, and the Self and Perspective subscales, being female related to a slightly higher sense of connection to nature. This gender difference was not noted when Mayer and Frantz initially tested the CNS, but it was documented on the NEP (Mayer & Frantz, 2004). Because this result was not documented in previous studies, it is unclear if this is a case of gender bias due to question topic/wording, or whether women in this population have a socialized or an inherently stronger connection to nature, compared to men.
Both income and education level were negatively correlated, albeit weakly, with almost every indicator, and several of the income relationships were statistically significant, suggesting that within this population the individuals with higher income/education demonstrated a slightly lower connection to nature. This is at odds with prior studies that demonstrated a positive link between education and relationship to nature. We propose the relationship may be different within this population because of the high connection to nature exhibited, along with high education level, and above-average income. This does not mean the relationship does not exist, but within this population, those individuals with the highest level of education and income had a slightly lower level of connection to nature, relative to others in the population.
This research examined the relationships between outdoor recreation, employment, and other demographic variables in connection to the human-nature relationship within a specific population, conservation gardeners. The relationships revealed are thus tied, at this point, to this population. Further work examining these relationships in populations representing demographic and cultural diversity will be useful to reveal additional patterns and test the applicability of findings gleaned from this study.
This research identified avenues for future research to examine the nuances of the indicators in terms of how they relate to different recreational pursuits. Further work needs to be conducted to understand how individuals’ recreational interests influence their responses to the indicators and their overall relationship with nature. It would be beneficial to examine the human-nature relationship of consumptive recreational pursuits with a larger sample size to see if the relationships noted in this study are supported in the hunting and fishing community. In addition, it would be useful to expand the list of recreational categories to include activities such as winter/water sports and nature related hobbies such as drawing or photography to further explore how recreational pursuits and hobbies influence the human-nature relationship. The results from the volunteer category suggest that this is an additional avenue of study in terms of where and how individuals spend their volunteer hours.
This study explored a number of behavioral and demographic attributes, but did not examine the religious and spiritual orientation of participants. It was clear, based on comments from some participants, that connection to God or a religious aspect was the primary motivator of participants’ gardening behavior. A few people wrote in “God” at the end of Statement 10 of the CNS next to the term “life force.” A few other participants wrote notes that related to their spiritual beliefs. These comments highlight that some individuals view their connection to nature as part of their relationship with God or a spiritual element. In addition, the comments suggest that the connection to nature indicators selected for this study do not do a good job of incorporating religious beliefs into a connection to nature, in some people’s view. It would be worthwhile to examine the influence of religious and/or spiritual inclinations on the various connection to nature indicators and the human-nature relationship.
The conservation gardeners in this study self-identified as well-educated, above-average earners, pet owners, volunteers, female, and were active in outdoor recreation pursuits. They scored high across all four connection to nature indicators with a relatively low SD, reflecting a strong multi-faceted connection to nature and demonstrating consistency among the indicators regarding their measure of the human-nature relationship.
Examining the correlations between the indicators and behavioral and demographic variables, provided a better understanding of the nuances of the indicators, including the subscales. There were clear differences in the correlations between the indicators and the types of recreation, consumptive/non-consumptive, immersive, level of equipment, etc. The non-consumptive and immersive categories were more strongly related to indicators that reflect a one-ness or equality with nature, such as the CNS, and Biospheric subscale of the EM. The recreation categories that require equipment and movement away from home, such as backpacking and camping, were positively tied to the Experience subscale of the NR, supporting the underlying idea that the indicator reflects a person’s time, comfort, and experience in nature. The Perspective subscale of the NR highlighted diversity within the conservation gardening population by revealing that people who participate in consumptive recreation activities, such as hunting, have a view that reflects agreement with using nature for the benefit of people, whereas the non-consumptive recreation categories did not demonstrate the same relationship.
For researchers, these results mean that for their particular research question it may be pertinent to use a particular connection to nature indicator, depending on goals and variables. It may also mean that using more than one indicator would be appropriate for the research, knowing that the connection to nature will be consistent over the instrument and that other sub-questions regarding area such as recreation will provide valuable insights.
In respect to the population studied, this research demonstrated that a person’s connection to nature and motivation for environmental concern was not highly correlated to their employment status or other demographic characteristics, suggesting that a person’s connection to nature, at least within a population with a high human-nature connection, is influenced by other factors. This research illuminates the idea that there is some other element, as yet unidentified, beyond shared outdoor recreation, employment status, or demographic characteristic that influences the human-nature relationship. In conclusion, this research demonstrated that within a population united by a shared interest, the connection to nature indicators will reflect diversity within the population.
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