Childhood experiences with nature strongly influence adult connectedness to nature

Colléony, A., Prévota, A. C., Jalmea, M. S., & Clayton, S. (2017). What kind of landscape management can counteract the extinction of experience?. Landscape And Urban Planning, 159, 23-31.

This study addressed concerns about "extinction of nature experience" and implications for the role of landscape management through examining predictors of the type and frequency of adult visits to natural areas.

This study involved 4639 adult participants in France. Data was pooled from five different survey instruments administered to five different groups. Each survey included the same questions about connectedness to nature, frequency of visits to natural areas, places primarily visited, age, gender, and type of childhood setting (from urban to rural). The connectedness to nature section consisted of an adapted version of the Inclusion of Other in the Self (IOS) scale which measures individuals' beliefs about how interconnected people feel with the natural world. The study also considered “place specificity” (how an individual is attached to a particular place) and childhood places.

Findings indicated that forest areas were the most cited natural places visited as adults, with parks the second most cited area. Greater childhood exposure to nature predicted higher adult frequency of visits to nature as well as visits to forests rather than more urban nature areas such as parks. Therefore, childhood nature experience appears critical for adult nature engagement, but also informs the type of nature exposure those adults seek. People who felt more connected to nature scored lower on place specificity, indicating that they were less likely to specify particular places they were attached to and more likely to feel connected to nature independent of interaction with a specific locale.

Overall, the results indicated that the frequency of visits to natural places as adults was strongly related to connectedness with nature and childhood experiences of nature. These results support community efforts designed to increase children's interactions with nature. This is especially important, the researchers note, in the context of environmental inequities. Greenness in many cities is not evenly distributed, leaving many low-income and minority populations with limited opportunities for engagement with nature.

Several specific recommendations are offered. Environmental educators are encouraged to diversify the natural places they use for their activities and encourage people to visit a variety of places. Landscape managers are encouraged to make natural areas accessible and attractive to a more diverse group of people in the community. The strong effect of childhood experiences of nature on adult connectedness to nature highlights the importance of also providing green spaces where young people live.

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