Research Summary

The development of children's environmental attitude and behavior

Environmental attitude and behavior form around age 7, increase until age 10, level off until age 14, and then decline again

Global Environmental Change
2019

While it’s generally understood that pro-environmental attitude and behavior are critical for effectively addressing climate change, little is known about how children's environmental attitude and behavior develop and consolidate through their growing-up years. This study examined the unfolding and consolidation of children's environmental attitude and behavior from first grade through early adulthood at age 18.

Over 100 children participated in this study by completing assessments four different times during their childhood and adolescent years. These times were at or around the ages of 7, 10, 14, and 18. Measures used for each of these assessments consisted of the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) Scale and the General Ecological Behavior (GEB) Scale. Adaptations of these scales were used when the children were younger.

Findings showed that both environmental attitude and behavior form around the age of 7 and increase until the age of 10. After that, both level off until age 14, and then decline again. Results also showed that environmental behavior starts to stabilize from age 10 as an enduring trait; whereas, environmental attitude remains in flux from childhood to early adulthood. At age 10, the relation between environmental attitude and environmental behavior was modest; at age 14, this relationship was substantial. At the ages of 7 and 18, there were no relations between environmental attitude and behavior.

This study is perhaps the first study to monitor the development of children’s environmental attitude and behavior over the course of their childhood into young adulthood. The findings provide some insights into the developmental trends in environmental attitude and behavior. Some of the findings are consistent with previous cross-sectional studies showing a decline in environmental attitude and behavior from around age 10 until young adulthood. A surprising finding of this study relates to the instability or flux of environmental attitude during adolescence. This research suggests that to maximize the effects of education for sustainable development, both environmental attitude and environmental behavior should be addressed at the same time.