The academic literature outlines three complementary dimensions of the human-nature connection (HNC): experiential, psychological, and contextual. These dimensions are often studied in isolation from each other, leaving the cross-fertilization across these bodies of knowledge largely missing. This study focused on the three dimensions of HNC jointly and, in the process, crossed conventional disciplinary boundaries. The aim of the study was to advance the conceptualization and assessment of human-nature relationships in order to gain a better understanding of what promotes children's desire to protect nature.
Three groups of ten-year-old students participated in this study. One group (N=67) attended a school affiliated with the Salamander Project (SP), a nature conservation program working to save and document two endangered species of salamanders. Children in this group rescue salamanders from a dry paddling pool, document their species and gender, and then release the salamanders into a nearby pond where they can reproduce. Children in the other two groups (N=91) attend nearby schools but do not participate in the SP. These groups served as control groups for this study. Twenty-five children from the SP group participated in interviews focusing on what they thought and felt about the SP, about salamanders, animals, and nature in general. The interviews were designed to measure experiential HNC. Several different measures were used to assess the children's psychological HNC. These included the Connectedness to Nature Index (CNI), the Inclusion of Nature in Self scale (INS), and a computerized Implicit Association Test. A modified version of the Inclusion of Other in the Self scale and three sets of questions were used to assess the contextual dimension of HNC. This scale and the questions focused on how children perceive themselves and their homes, integrated in the concepts of nature and city.
Results of the experiential HNC assessment indicated that all 25 interviewees perceived salamanders in a different light after participating in the SP. After the project, the children associated salamanders with aesthetic pleasure, feelings of care, empathy, and respect. Assessment results showed that there were no baseline differences between control and treatment (SP) groups. Additionally, findings showed that the SP did not influence children's psychological or contextual HNC. Yet, an analysis of contextual HNC indicated that “children's relations with home, nature, and city, not only improves the prediction of their desire to work for nature, but also exposes a form of Human-Nature Disconnection (HND) shaped by children's closeness to cities that negatively influence it.” Overall findings revealed some gender differences, with females showing significantly higher psychological and contextual HNC than males. Females also showed a significantly higher desire to work for nature than males.
This research suggests that “experiential aspects of saving animals enhance children's appreciation and understanding for animals, nature, and nature conservation.” This research also shows that combining experiential, psychological, and contextual dimensions of HNC can be helpful in advancing the conceptualization and assessment of human-nature relationships.