Research Summary

Nature and the life course: Pathways from childhood nature experiences to adult environmentalism

Childhood nature experiences may be an important pathway to adult environmental attitudes and behaviors

Children, Youth and Environments
2006

In this study, Nancy M. Wells and Kristi S. Lekies examine linkages between childhood nature experiences and adult environmental attitudes and behaviors. Data for this study were collected as part of a large telephone survey, which interviewed about 2,000 individuals, 18-90 years of age, in over 100 urban areas in the United States. In this survey, participants answered a number of questions about their nature-related experiences during childhood and their current environmental attitudes and behaviors. To analyze the survey data, Wells and Lekies used structural equation modeling, which enabled them to test complex relationships between childhood nature experiences and adult environmental attitudes and behaviors. In their analysis, the authors controlled for a number of socio-demographic variables (e.g., gender and race). Wells and Lekies found that childhood participation with “wild” nature (e.g., hiking, camping, or playing in the woods), had a significant, positive effect on both adult environmental attitudes and behaviors. That is, people who participated in “wild” nature activities as children were more likely to have pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors as adults. Additionally, Wells and Lekies found that childhood participation with “domesticated” nature (e.g., picking flowers or planting seeds), while having a significant, positive effect, did not have as great an influence as that of “wild” nature on environmental attitudes and had only a marginal effect on environmental behaviors.