Philosophers have long argued for the importance of emotion when it comes to developing a healthy relationship with our environment. Emotional responses to nature can include awe, reverence and wonder, and these often numinous feelings are understood to be the foundation of environmental ethics. Perhaps this is why climate scientists have such a hard time prompting people to pro-environmental behaviours. Although the statistical predictions for our planet’s future should send shivers down anyone’s spine, they generally don’t. Why is this?
Enter psychological science!
Part of the problem is due to the fact that numbers may stimulate our minds, but they don't tend to stir our hearts. It's our emotions that motivate us to action, not information. Based on this, a whole body of psychological research has shown that internalised emotions about nature are more effective drivers of pro-environmental behaviours than factual knowledge of environmental issues, especially when those facts are disseminated in the form of percentages and other statistics. A lot of these findings have come through the use of special psychological surveys called 'scales' that offer a way to measure strength of feeling toward a certain psychological construct. Scales to do with nature connection have been used to analyse relationships between how people feel about nature, and their pro-environmental actions. I’d like to focus on just one of these scales here: the Love and Care for Nature (LCN) scale, developed by Perkins (2010).
The Love and Care for Nature Scale (LCN)
The LCN scale focuses on measuring the intrinsic value of nature to a person. That is to say, the LCN scale taps into the extent to which someone values nature in and of itself, rather than as a resource available for human use. Furthermore, among the numerous scales developed to measure aspects of nature connection, Perkin's (2010) LCN was developed to specifically target our emotional relationship toward the natural world. In response to 15 statements, respondents mark their strength of agreement to each statement along a series of ranks which include ‘strongly agree’, ‘agree’, ‘neither agree nor disagree’, ‘disagree’, ‘strongly disagree’. The ranks are given a numerical value in order to make them amenable to statistical tests. With a large, well chosen sample, such tests are capable of making general inferences about the population of interest.
What did Perkins (2010) find?
After developing a way for capturing an empirical measurement of a person’s love and care for nature, Perkin’s (2010) found that people who scored highly on the LCN scale were more likely to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of the natural environment, such as taking the time to recycle, signing petitions, abstaining from unnecessary car journeys and showing a willingness to pay higher prices for goods and services if that would serve protecting the environment. Therefore, our love and care for nature can be a reliable predictor of our likelihood to act on behalf of nature.
Let's get interactive!
Let's do a bit of community science. Below you will find a link to download a pdf file of the Love and Care for Nature (LCN) scale. I’d like to invite you to fill out the scale for yourself. Once you've done this, use the contact page to send me your results; or just post them in the comments, and I'll do the analysis for you. See you in a bit!
So, I'll use your results to conduct a Wilcoxon’s signed ranks test. Put simply, this is a way of mathematically deciding whether your score sets you aside from a theoretical population of people who are indifferent toward the natural world. I will get back to you (via a private email if you wish) with your results. If your score is statistically significant we can decide with confidence that you are in the population of people who love and care for nature under Perkin’s (2010) definition of the construct. But what if your score fails to reach significance? Don’t worry. Firstly, no scale can usurp what any individual feels in their heart, so at the end of the day, you’ll always have the last word on that one. Secondly, failing to reach significance could be useful for you: you get more interesting questions from it. Why didn’t your score reach significance? Were you surprised? Is your support for environmentalism more of a rationally thought out thing perhaps? Finally, if your score doesn’t reach significance, but you would like it to, you might ask yourself if there’s anything you can do about that. If that’s the case, I've got good news for you – you can! Stick around for my posts on developing a deeper connection to nature.
The take home message
Perkin's (2010) research, along with many other studies, offers a useful insight for promoting pro-environmental behaviours: environmental education needs to be as much about inspiring as informing. Not many people will make sacrifices for abstract information, but people will fight tooth and claw for what they love. Of course, you can't love what you don't know, so whilst nature documentaries may evoke a variety of transient emotions - perhaps even enough to motivate pro-environmental action - the most powerful driver of sustained lifestyle change will come through regular, meaningful connection with nature. This is the context within which we can develop that real, living relationship, whether is be with the house plant we've nurtured since it was a seedling, or vast, wild nature. This is the context within which we start to care. So let's remember not just to share links to those important reports on the latest climate change warnings - share your own experiences of our one beautiful earth. Mention how awe-struck you were by the that exquisite sunset, the close encounter you had with that fox, the joy you felt listening to an orchestra of bird song on a woodland walk. Let your own inspiration be an inspiration to others.
Perkins, H. E. (2010). Measuring love and care for nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 455-463. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2010.05.004
is a PhD candidate researching under the topic 'Understanding Behaviour Change toward Sustainability'. Damien is also a strong believer that knowledge should be freely available; a belief that motivated him to start One Beautiful Earth as a way of informing earth lovers everywhere on what behavioural scientists and social psychologists are up to and what we're finding out, all in human readable language! It's not all science though: expect a smattering of environmental ethics, philosophy, interviews and the odd opinion piece thrown in. Enjoy!