Research Summary

A qualitative study on Turkish preschool children's environmental attitudes through ecocentrism and anthropocentrism

Preschool Children’s Environmental Attitudes Tend to Be Self-Centered

International Journal of Science Education

The positive environmental behaviors that can be effected by simple lifestyle changes are often learned as very young children. Habits such as turning off the lights when leaving a room may be formed at a young age, and may form the basis for positive environmental behavior throughout a person’s lifetime. The authors of this paper studied the formation of such behaviors in 40 preschoolers who ranged in age from five to six years old and who lived in Ankara, Turkey. The researchers interviewed the students about their motivations for acting in an environmentally conscious manner.

The authors classify motivations for environmental behaviors into two categories: ecocentric, or valuing the environment for its own sake and giving nature an intrinsic value; and anthropocentric, or valuing nature for human use. The researchers asked the children about four broad categories of environmental behavior: consumption patterns, environmental protection, recycling–reusing, and living habits. Male and female students showed both types of motivation for environmentally friendly behaviors, and the researchers found no significant variation for boys and girls in this age group between ecocentric and anthropocentric reasoning. (The authors do cite other studies in which teenage girls have been shown to be more ecocentric than their male peers.)

There was, however, a great deal of variation between the two classifications of motivation within the four behavior categories. Children tended to be anthropocentric in the consumption category, giving responses such as, “If we do not turn the water off while brushing teeth, we waste water and we have to pay a lot more for the water bill,” although some (about 16 percent) cited ecocentric motivations, such as the fact that saving paper saves trees and trees are food for animals. In the environmental protection category, researchers asked subjects about respecting wildlife, and not disturbing plants and animals. These responses tended to be much more ecocentric, with 62 percent of subjects reporting positive behaviors with ecocentric reasoning, such as, “I do not want to kill flowers, if I bring them home, they cannot live, they miss their home and they die.”

Students in this study showed a very low rate of recycling, with only 5 percent of them reporting regularly separating recyclable items, mainly due to lack of recycling bins. In the category of living habits, 75 percent of subjects reported a preference for playing outside, and 95 percent wanted to live somewhere with a lot of plants and animals, although most of them showed anthropocentric reasoning as well (for example, they are able to play more roughly outside, or living in a less crowded place would give them more room to play). There were, however, a number of ecocentric responses to this question as well.

The authors cited Piaget’s theory of egocentrism, which states that young children tend to focus on their own point of view more so than others, as a possible reason for the high level of anthropocentric motivations for environmental behavior. The researchers also postulated that the environmental protection category received more ecocentric responses because caring for plants and animals had a more tangible positive environmental impact than other actions. In addition, many of the schools which the children attended included classroom pets or gardens, giving them more experience with caring for nature.

The Bottom Line

Preschool children are at the age where they are generally self-centric/anthropocentric in their reasoning. However, they are capable of positive environmental behaviors and show signs of developing ecocentric motivations. At this age, there are no significant gender-based differences between ecocentric and anthropocentric motivations. Educators can always support young students in nurturing and developing an ecocentric view. As the authors explained, “Educators and others involved in child care can help young children feel part of nature, thus beginning the process of developing the child’s ecocentric attitudes towards nature. For this reason, environmental issues should be integrated into the existing early childhood education programmes and should include both indoor and outdoor activities.”