Research Summary

The relationship of childhood upbringing and university degree program to environmental identity: Experience in nature matters

Nature experiences are critical for forming environmental identity, which influences choice of area of study

Environmental Education Research

This study investigates the relationship between French university students’ environmental identity and a number of variables including childhood experiences, social experiences, current involvement with nature, and choice of academic discipline. Environmental identity, as described in the literature, is a stable sense of oneself as interdependent with the natural world.

Results from a survey completed by 919 French students majoring in different academic areas (ecology, other sciences, and political science) were used as data for this study. The survey consisted of three sections: Environmental Identity Scale (EID), Inclusion of Nature in Self (INS), and a personal information section focusing on factors linked with individual environmental identity. These factors included the rurality level of childhood place of residence, frequency of current uses of natural areas, membership in a nature protection association, proportion of friends and relatives concerned about nature protection, and current area of study.

Results showed significantly higher levels of EID for students in ecology compared to students in political science. EID was also strongly influenced by personal experiences of nature and social context regarding conservation. EID scores increased significantly with (1) increased frequency of using natural areas, (2) a higher proportion of friends and relatives concerned with conservation issues, and (3) being a member of a nature protection association. The rurality of the childhood place explained environmental identity, however, it’s impact was through both current experiences and social identity regarding nature. Women had significantly higher environmental identity scores than men.

The authors suggest that childhood experiences create habits or routines related to the outdoors that remain in adulthood. The adult behavior of visiting natural areas then promotes higher scores of environmental identity. Based on these results, the researchers suggest that one’s choice of academic studies is more a result than a cause for high environmental identity. In other words, young adults choose their academic curriculum partly based on their environmental identity, rather than the reverse. Implications discussed by the researchers include the need to provide opportunities for children to experience nature freely in their everyday lives. They call on national and local authorities and urban planners to increase the place of nature in cities.

Prevot, A. - C., Clayton, S., & Mathevet, R.. (2016). The relationship of childhood upbringing and university degree program to environmental identity: Experience in nature matters. Environmental Education Research, 1-17. doi: