A new measure of our connection with nature
Human relationships with nature – how we perceive, relate to and interact with the natural environment – have gained increasing prominence in the academic literature in recent years.
Human disconnection from nature has been implicated as a key factor in the ongoing destruction of the natural environment, with calls to (re)connect people with nature to foster sustainability outcomes. Indeed, research suggests that people with higher connection with nature (CN) scores tend also to engage with more pro-environmental behaviours, more often.
CN – a subjective sense of one’s relationship with nature, encompassing thoughts, feelings and behaviours – has often been conceptualised as a unidimensional construct and while recent evidence suggests it is multidimensional, there is debate about which dimensions are important.
In recent years, over 20 self-report questionnaires have been developed to capture CN. Only three of these are multidimensional. All are lengthy and may not be practical to use in real-world contexts.
Behaviour Change Graduate Research Industry Partnership (GRIP) program PhD candidate, Melissa Hatty, is working with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) on a program of work to encourage Victorians to participate in activities in line with Victoria’s Biodiversity Strategy.
In this study, published in Frontiers of Psychology, Melissa sought to clarify the dimensions of CN and develop/validate an abbreviated yet multidimensional CN instrument – the CN-12.
Analyses of two large datasets revealed three dimensions or “types” of CN – identity, experience, and philosophy.
Results suggested that the CN-12 and its three dimensions are positively correlated with:
- environmental and altruistic values
- time spent in nature
- a range of pro-environmental behaviours.
Results also suggested that the CN-12 is positively correlated with two existing multidimensional connection with nature instruments – the Nature Relatedness (NR) Scale and Environmental Identity (EID) Scale – while the CN-12 dimensions are also strongly related to similar dimensions captured by the NR and EID.
These findings suggest that CN-Identity (self-perception as someone who feels emotionally connected to nature and who behaves in such a way as to protect nature) appears to be the most important dimension or “type” of connection.
Followed by this is CN-Experience (a sense of enjoyment, wellbeing and belonging associated with activities undertaken in the natural environment) and CN-Philosophy (ideas around humanity’s relationship with nature, including a sense of interconnectedness between humans and nature).
Preliminary results also suggest that different CN-12 dimensions may be better predictors of specific pro-environmental behaviours. For example, CN-Identity was more strongly related to participation in environmental volunteering, participation in citizen science, donating to environmental organisations and advocating for the environment than the CN total score.
These results suggest that behaviour change interventions aimed at increasing participation in volunteering, citizen science, donations and advocacy may benefit from targeted interventions that increase people’s CN-Identity; that is, enhancing their self-perception as someone emotionally connected to nature and who behaves in ways that protect nature.