The Attitudes of People towards Nature
For our student-generated lab, we decided to evaluate the attitudes of students attending Miami University towards their natural environment. While a great deal of research has been done in this area, we would like to expand it into our environment here at Miami. With Miami having such a beautiful campus, we were very interested in finding how many students truly appreciate this and would work to maintain such a positive attribute to our school. To evaluate this, we decided to conduct a survey among students observing their environmental values with respect to their place of residence (away from school, their ?home?) categorizing it as a suburb, city, or country town and their background (heritage). Our hypothesis infers that people living nearer to a city will have a more negative attitude towards nature and less of a personal relationship with it than those that reside in more rural areas. We also presume that students with an environmental background in which their parents or family members showed interest in the environment and its preservation would have a more positive attitude towards nature. In our studies, we have come to conclude that a positive attitude towards nature can be defined as making a conscientious attempt to improve the state of the environment. A negative attitude towards nature, however, could be defined as making little or no effort to improve the environment and performing the acts that continue to hurt it.
Dating back into ancient times, the environment and the extent to which it should be observed has been questionable. As Holmes Rolstan III says, ?Can and ought we follow nature?? (p.3). Today, views are very similar. Many people want to learn more about their environment and ways that it can be preserved but yet others still fail to believe in the importance of its? conservation. The more that is learned about nature is the more pain and concern that seems to be brought into the world.
Contemporary environmentalism began in the 1960?s and 1970?s as public awareness of environmental problems was broadened by environmental events. ?Environmental problems were increasingly viewed as (1) being more complex in origin, often stemming from new technologies; (2) having delayed, complex, and difficult to detect effects; and (3) having consequences for human health and well being as well as for natural systems? as Charles Harper claims in his book Environment and Society (p. 299). People were finally realizing that these problems not only effected the natural environment but also could potentially negatively effect humanity thus causing a burst of support for environmentalism.
Another theory explaining peoples? want or need to be involved with nature and its? upkeep is the biophilia hypothesis. Kellert, the author of this theory states, ?The Biophilia Hypothesis boldly asserts the existence of a biologically based, inherent human need to affiliate with life and lifelike processes (Wilson, 1984). This proposition suggests that human identity and personal fulfillment somehow depend on our relationship to nature? (p.42). Kellert believes that all people are naturally inclined. They need to have an affiliation with nature in order to succeed and obtain the optimal level of self-value. John Barry in his Environment and Social Theory supports the biophilia hypothesis asserting that we have a relationship to the natural environment due to our genetic and evolutionary history. ??.. biophilia is a sociobiological attempt to explain why we do have a genetic concern for the nonhuman world? (p.181). Therefore, according to the above sources, the biophilia hypothesis explains why we seek to have a relationship with nature and why we drive to conserve it.
Several studies have been done in the area of evaluating people?s attitudes towards nature. One of these is the Houston Child and Parent Study in which 24 black parents and their children from the city were questioned about their relationship with nature and its? importance in their family. The goal of this study was to help characterize and give voice to black parents? perspectives on nature and the importance of environmental education for their children. The results showed that 100% of the parents were aware of some environmental problems (75% air pollution, 71% water problems, 67% garbage) and 93% said that they helped or were willing to help the environment in some way. ?In summary, parents spoke of their commitment to environmental issues and enjoyment of nature. Animals, plants, and parks played an important part in the lives of these parents and their families. Parents were aware of the negative effects of environmental problems such as air pollution, water pollution, and garbage? (p.126). This study attempted to show the role that city life played on parents? environmental values and the role that parentage played on their children?s relationship with the environment. (Kahn)
Going along with our study, another approach to evaluating peoples? attitudes towards nature is by learning about their heritage. Janna Thompson in her article Environment as Cultural Heritage argues that, ?Historic buildings, landmarks, and environments can acquaint people with conditions in the past, teach them something about the aspirations and values of past people, or about important historical events and movements (?) Since people have an interest in learning about their history, the argument goes, the special educative role of heritage gives us good reason to want to preserve it? (p. 246). Thompson believes that peoples? inclination to improve the quality of the environment comes from their heritage, the environmental values of their ancestors or tangible environmental memorabilia of the past. Jennifer Welchman in ?The Virtues of Stewardship? also prescribes to this theory. ?On these grounds, Leopold argues for the preservation of portions of the American prairie and other relatively ?natural? areas as a living, interactive memorial to honor the courage, hardiness, and other pioneering virtues of earlier inhabitants (?) there is value in any experience, that reminds us of our distinctive national origins and evolution, i.e. that stimulates awareness of history? (p.419) By citing Leopold, she shows her belief that culture and ancestry have a large impact on a person?s environmental values.
We will now expand into the second half of our study. We found a great deal of research dealing with different locations' effect on the environmental conservation and knowledge. As Alastair S. Gunn proposes in his article ?Rethinking Communities: Environmental Ethics in an Urbanized World?, ?¼city is a culmination of natural triumphs? and ?¼city opposes all environmental conservation.? Also from this source, ?If inner cities were more pleasant places to live (which they would be if they were more natural), many more people would choose to live in them, thus reversing the suburban and exurban drift and repopulating central cities with people who have a commitment to maintaining a cleaner and more natural environment.? This backs up our hypothesis that people living in suburbs or rural areas are more conscientious of their natural surroundings. This article makes an attempt to persuade people living in urban areas to learn about their city?s environmental problems to work to improve the quality of life in it by environmental restoration.
To conclude, a great deal of research has been done considering the attitudes of people concerning nature. We have outlined a few approaches along with giving background as to interest in environmentalism in this introduction in order to establish the grounds for our study. We hope to find enough evidence through our survey method to develop our hypothesis further and make conclusions as to the difference in attitudes towards nature based on location and environmental heritage.
Materials and Methods
Sources on the topic of environmental awareness and attitudes
1. First of all, we will look at other studies done on our subject matter and
come up with a survey to accurately examine the differences living area has
on ones feelings towards the environment as a whole.
2. Distribute survey, asking at least 150 random students attending Miami
University questions dealing with their feelings and actions towards nature
also inquiring what type of environment they live in (city, country, and
This survey tests the relationship between Miami students and the
environment. Please fill out the survey honestly and to the best of your
ability so as to decrease experimental bias. Circle only one answer. Thanks
for your cooperation!
1) What area were you brought up in?
Urban Rural Suburban
2) In the past few years, you have littered...
None or very little 10-15 pieces of trash per month 15+ pieces of trash per month
3) If you see an insect in your house, do you...?
Leave it alone/take it outside Get someone else to deal with it Kill it
4) The number of pets in your house are...
0 1-3 4+
5) Parental occupation is...
Indoors Indoors and occasionally outdoors Outside the majority of the time
6) On average, you recycle...
Once in a blue moon When it is convenient All of the time
7) Have you had a significant experience with nature that has affected your
relationship with it? If so, please elaborate the circumstances.
3. Collect surveys and compare data from each person.
4. We will break the survey down into general categories (outside of city
limits/ inside city limits).
5. We will compare the data we collect with previous experiments, similar to
ours, and our preconceived ideas of environmental values (positive or
negative attitude). Our group will analyze the differences and either prove
or disprove our hypothesis.
6.When comparing the surveys we will give each person surveyed a score which
will be calculated based upon their answers to certain questions on the
survey. The more positive your attitude towards the environment is, the lower
the score you will receive.
7. We will look at people's scores based upon their location, major, gender,
and parental background.
8. We may try to do some type of mathematical analysis of our results such as
a t-test or frequency distribution to test the validity of our conclusion
9. Post our results in the Final Lab Packet and share them with the class on
our teaching day.
10. Finally we will post our final results on the web for everyone to see.
In evaluating the results of our survey, we will take into account the experimental bias that could occur due to our trust in the honesty of our survey participants knowing that people tend to make themselves seem better on paper. We expect to find that people who live in the city limits will have a lesser appreciation for nature than those who live outside of the city limits. In addition, students who grew up in a more environmentally concerned family will have a greater appreciation for nature than those not brought up with the environment as a major concern. With the conclusion of our study and the receiving of our survey results, we hope to get a basic understanding of what affect one?s environment has on one?s feelings about nature and the things that inhabit nature.
In evaluating the results of our survey, we will take into account the experimental bias that could occur due to our trust in the honesty of our survey participants knowing that people tend to make themselves seem better on paper.
When analyzing the project as a whole, we found our hypothesis to be true in most cases. If one looks at the charts, we have presented one can see that the majority of the comparisons made had a significant difference. Which in turn means that chance was not the primary factor in our final analysis. When we looked at location, we found that there was definitely a significant difference between those who lived in rural and urban areas. When examining students from urban areas versus those from rural areas, there was a p-value of .0378 which in turns mean that there was a significant difference between urban students and rural students. We also found that Western students on a whole seemed to be more environmentally aware than other majors. Western Students, when compared to other majors, were very different based upon their environmental awareness and attitudes. Our data may have been a bit skewed, however, because of the fact that we surveyed very few Arts and Sciences, Education, and undecided students. When looking at western students versus business students, there was a p-value of .0026, showing a major significant difference between the two, and there was a p-value of .0006 when looking at Western students and Architecture and Interior Design students. Even though we really had no hypothesis about gender specifically, we found that the difference between men and women was more than likely due to chance alone. The p-value between male and female students was.5693, showing that there was no real significant difference between the two categories. There was also no significant difference in environmental awareness between people whose parents worked out doors and those who worked indoors. In retrospect, we probably should have left that test out because for the most part one's parents' job probably has no effect on one's attitudes toward the environment. The p-values, when comparing parental occupations, ranged from .0923 to .9072.
Although our data taught us a lot about environmental attitudes, we must also take into account that some people may have biases against nature because of personal experience. When reviewing the surveys, we found that a few people had been attacked by animals ranging from squirrels to dogs. Such personal events seemed to leave those survey participants with a rather pessimistic outlook on nature. Therefore we needed to take these biases into account when looking at each of the surveys. Overall we found the majority of our results to be significant, and they backed up our hypothesis.
Through our presentation, we hoped to give the class the reality of how much effort Miami students give to improving their environment and what role their location and background plays in this. We hoped to encourage them to take a role in improving the environment around us and in encouraging others no matter what area or background they come from to realize the importance of sustaining the environment and take steps to improving it. We decided to present the background to our project and previous studies that have been done to introduce our topic. Also, we passed out our survey and had the class participate. They filled out the survey and scored themselves.
The class helped us a great deal in the development of our project. After filling out the surveys, we asked them to give us ideas as to how to evaluate the different ranges of scores. We were given ideas such as placing the lower scores in a category of environmental activism and the higher scores in a category of environmental inactivism.
We also received some insight from the class as to how to better our evaluation methods so they would more accurately describe our results. As a result of this, we decided to only tally the four action questions (#2, 3, 4, 6) and then measure that score (which ranged from 4-11) against the other two questions which dealt with our variables of background and location. This not only helped make our evaluation more accurate, but made it easier to put the survey results through statview and to receive more observable results.
Based on our results, we can ultimately conclude that our hypothesis of urban students having a more negative attitude towards nature than rural students is supported by our evidence. However, since we found no significant difference between the parental occupation of students, we cannot conclude that there is a link between parentage or heritage and environmental attitudes. We also measured the relevance of major and gender to the student?s environmental attitude and found gender to have no significance, and major to be significant in several areas. Western students and Business students showed the greatest significance along with Western and Architecture/Interior Design students. These three groups also had the greatest number of students sampled making them fairly reliable. The other groups (Arts and Sciences, Undecided, Education), however, had very small sample sizes making the results not as significant. Therefore, many of the stereotypes about western, business, and architecture/interior design are now backed up by statistical evidence.
While varying sample sizes may have caused us to get the biased results that we did, we tried to eliminate other biases by adding question number 7 to our survey, ?Have you had a significant experience with nature that has affected your relationship with it? If so, please elaborate the circumstances.? We received a variety of responses to this question, both giving way to more positive attitudes and negative attitudes towards nature. The positive responses included hunting, visiting national parks, nature walks with family, visiting family farms, attending boy scout trips, playing in the woods as a child, planting a tree and watching it grow, mountain climbing, and volunteering as a camp counselor. Other students noted that the mandatory recycling laws in their states caused recycling to be a force of habit for them. Still others claimed that witnessing the destruction of wooded areas due to the building of housing developments caused them to take an active role in preserving the environment. Parentage seemed to have a great effect on environmental attitudes as students recalled family nature walks, trips to national parks, or their parents involvement in the environmental movement. While many students recalled positive experiences that enhanced their appreciation of nature, there were several that noted negative experience that have caused them to look at nature more pessimistically. These students recollected bee stings and their allergies to them, having been bit by a squirrel, and having been attacked by a raccoon. This addition to our survey gave us a great deal of insight as to how students formed their environmental attitudes.
We believe that shedding light upon these biases helps us to understand why we got the results we did. We had to take into account a variety of possible biases in our evaluation of the surveys; the most important being the honesty of the students? surveyed. This could be the biggest bias due to the fact that most people try to make themselves seem better on paper. While we asked our survey participants to be completely honest, we have to take into account human nature. While we still firmly believe that our hypotheses are correct, we also believe that these biases may have skewed our study.
We also came to some conclusions as to how our study fits in with others. You may recall the Houston Parent and Child Study. It studied the effects of parentage and location on school age children and concluded that city life did not affect the parents? high amount of appreciation of nature and that all of these parents valued nature and the importance of their children learning about it and its importance. Our study refutes this one. Our results showed that urban life does indeed negatively affect a person?s attitude towards nature going along with our hypothesis. However, while our results showed that parental occupation does not affect environmental attitude, we still believe that parentage and environmental background do affect it. We believe that our question did not accurately portray the effects of parentage on the student?s environmental attitudes and that the Houston Parent and Child Study is very likely to be more accurate. Our studies did back up the articles out of Environmental Ethics dealing with urban communities and environmental heritage.
Further studies in this area over a wider range of the population would probably be more beneficial to determining whether these factors do attribute to environmental attitude. Also, a direct observation of the student?s environmental habits rather than surveys based on their word alone may be more favorable since we were studying how environmental actions show environmental attitudes. We do believe that examining specific experiences with nature that may affect a person?s environmental outlook is very important to understanding how they formed their attitudes towards nature. This part of the study should be included in any further studies in this area whether in the form of a survey, or an observational study.
We learned a great deal about how Miami students? feel about their natural environment and are pretty happy with our results. We are reassured that our beautiful environment here will remain as it is today with the help of these environmentally aware students. While our results may not accurately portray the reasons why students feel the way they do about nature, there is a lot of room for improvement and other means of studying in order to perfect studies in this area. Hopefully, people will continue to gain awareness about their environment and the importance of its? preservation and will begin to take direct action to improving the natural world.
1. Rolstan, Holmes III: Environmental Ethics Vol. 19. p. 3
2. Harper, Charles: Environment and Society: Human Perspectives on Environmental Issues copyright 1996 by Prentice Hill Inc.
3. Kellert, Stephen R. and Wilson, Edward: The Biophilia Hypothesis copyright 1993 by Island Press.
4. Barry, John: Environment and Social Theory copyright 1999 by Routledge 1.
5. Kahn, Jr., Peter H.: The Human Relationship with Nature: Development and Culture copyright 1999 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
6. Thompson, Janna: ?Environment as Cultural Heritage?, Environmental Ethics Vol. 22 #3 fall 2000
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