Scale Measures Children's Environmental Concerns

Bruni, C. M., Chance, R. C., & Schultz, W. (2012). Measuring Values-Based Environmental Concerns in Children: An Environmental Motives Scale. The Journal Of Environmental Education, 43, 1 - 15.

The Environmental Motives Scale (EMS) is a research instrument that has been widely used to examine adults' environmental concern. The scale is based on the Value-Belief-Norm model, which indicates that a person's concerns about environmental issues are determined by their values and beliefs, and specifically by the relative importance he or she places on him or herself (called an egoistic value), other people (altruistic values), or nature (biospheric values). The researchers call this a three-factor structure (with the the three key factors being egoisitc, altruistic, and biospheric values), and it's been widely tested and used.

This study aimed to find out if the EMS could be used with children in the same way it's used with adults. The authors made small adjustments to the standard EMS questionnaire that they thought would make it more accessible to children. Specifically, the authors explain, “the measure was worded more concretely and focused on a specific environmental problem (pollution), rather than the abstract wording used in the previous versions with adults (harming nature).” The survey contained brief demographic questions, the modified EMS, a question that measured the child's feelings of connectedness to nature (the question was presented graphically with a set of circles that overlapped to varying degrees, with the highest degree of overlap indicating the greatest connection to nature), and a question that measured the child's concern about environmental issues.

The researchers administered the survey online to 305 students between the ages of 9 and 18 in a public school district in Escondido, California. And they found that the survey worked. The authors even retested the children a year later to check for consistency in the results over time. The authors point out that, “Our results here are noteworthy in that very few studies of environmental attitudes include test-retest analyses of one-year. Most studies only span a few days or weeks in their analyses of test-retest.”

But the authors did have to remove two of the four questions related to the altruistic factor, which could prove problematic over the long term. So they did a second study with two revised questions to measure altruism. The second study was carried out in much the same way, with 220 students of about the same age (10 to 18) and demographic mix in the same school district.

This time, the revised scale worked well, and they believe that the results support the idea that in children, as in adults, concern about environmental problems is rooted in values and the relative importance children place on themselves, other people, and nature. But the authors note that for younger children, the results were stronger for questions that contained words that were specific (for example, “tree,” “plant,” or “me”) than they were for more abstract words (such as “my future,” or “others”). The researchers suggest that if the scale is to be used with younger kids, more concrete language might work better. They also note that while this child-friendly test version of the scale used “pollution” as a concrete example of an environmental problem, anyone using the scale in the future could substitute another environmental issue or problem to make the scale relevant to their program.

With these tweaks for specific audiences, the authors think this scale “provides a useful tool for educational programs, interventions, and developmental research focused on environmental attitudes.” Specifically, they suggest the children's EMS can be used in an environmental education program “to understand the impact of the program and changes in environmental concern among children participating in the program.”

The Bottom Line

<p>The Environmental Motives Scale (EMS) has been modified slightly for use with children, and this research suggests it's a reliable, valid tool that's ready to use with kids ages 10 to 18. The scale can be used in evaluations of environmental education programs to help gauge how the programs affect children's environmental concerns. The scale should be modified with more concrete language for younger kids, and the environmental problem named in the scale can be swapped for a problem or issue that reflects the content of the program being evaluated to make it more relevant.</p>