Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Research Update: Getting out, Going Green

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Research Update: Getting out, Going Green

Article excerpt

Outdoor recreation is linked to pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors.

As human populations grow and the sustainability of our earth's resources is strained, the attitudes of the general public toward pro-environmental practices will become increasingly important. Following the environmental movement and coinciding increase in outdoor recreation in the 1970s, it is often assumed that participation in outdoor recreation should lead to increased environmental concern and pro-environmental behaviors (Dunlap & Heffernan, 1975; Jackson, 1986). However, studies show mixed support to this relationship, particularly in relation to various forms of outdoor experience (Thapa & Graefe, 2003).

Outdoor Experiences and Attitudes

Researchers have attempted to understand how outdoor experiences, through either recreational or nonrecreational activities, influence environmental attitudes. A major line of research focuses on childhood experiences. It has been found that childhood recreational experiences are good indicators of adult environmental attitudes and behaviors.

Precursors influencing adult environmental attitudes were examined through a study on environmental education of adolescents, revealing that involvement in outdoor activities resulted in increased empathy to nature, better social behavior and higher levels of moral judgment (Palmberg & Kuru, 2000). In a separate study by Ewert, Place and Sib thorp (2005), those who participated in outdoor activities as a child and saw abuse of the environment and negative media about it, had beliefs changed as adults. (Ewert et al, 2005).

Quality of life is often associated with leisure experiences, as well. In fact, environmentally aware behaviors increase as a user is more connected to a place in the outdoors (Ewert, 2003). Ewert also asserts that direct outdoor experiences help people form bonds with their surroundings, influencing individual behaviors. This phenomenon is also known as place attachment and its relevance is demonstrated through the behaviors resulting from outdoor recreation in specific settings.

Similarly, restorative experiences in nature have been shown to affect proenvironmental behaviors. Personal feelings of fascination and social desirability, regardless of how these feelings were achieved, were shown to be good predictors of environmental behavior (Hartig, Kaiser & Bowler, 2001).

The Role of Demographic Factors

Understanding the demographics of recreation participants may provide evidence of a link between recreation and attitude toward the environment. A 2002 study used data from the National Survey on Recreation and Environment (NSRE) to compare demographics, recreation and environmental attitudes (Cordell, Betz & Green, 2002). Results showed that not only are growth rates among birding, snowmobiling, hiking and backpacking increasing at higher rates than other activities, but that generalizations can be made based on participating ethnicities and age groups.

Participants whose personal beliefs were more pro-environment tended to have middle to higher incomes and participated in such activities as walking, surfing, motor boating, canoeing, swimming and skiing. They were also more likely to be younger than age 44 and Caucasian, Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian.

Participants with a more anthropocentric view, or a view where they see themselves directly connected to the outdoors, tended to participate in team sports, hiking and hunting. They also included a higher proportion of Hispanics, foreign-born residents, American Indians and younger people with higher incomes (Cordell et al, 2002). Understanding such trends in population growth can affect management strategies involving such efforts as trail design and leisure opportunities.

The Role of Activity Choice

Research often links activity types with resulting attitudes and behaviors, a connection originally proposed by Dunlap and Heffernan in 1975. …

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