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Emotional Involvement in Nature: Its Socio-Psychological Correlates and Associations with Pro-Environmental Attitudes and Behavior

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  • Emotional Affinity To Nature
  • Restorativeness
  • Animism
  • Nature Experiences
  • Environmentalism
  • Ecology
  • Education
  • Geography
  • Psychology
  • Religious Science


Emotional involvement with nature characterizes the extent to which people have an affective relationship to the natural world: positive feelings when in contact with the natural environment, and negative feelings (distress) as a response to destruction or degradation of nature (e.g. Kals, 1998; Chawla, 1998). Another concept referring to nature-related positive feelings is restorative environmental experience (Kaplan, 1995). Several theoretical models include emotional involvement with nature as a component of environmental consciousness and as a predictor of environmental attitudes, beliefs and pro-environmental behavior (Chawla, 1998, Kals, 1998, Kollmus & Agyeman, 2002). Restorative nature experiences are also considered as significant motivators of environmentalism (Hartig et al., 2001). The aim of our study was to investigate the associations of emotional involvement with several other measures of environmental consciousness and its relative impact on pro-environmental behavior. The data is based on a survey study which was carried out in 2002. The sample (N=987) represents age, sex and territorial distribution of the population of Estonia. Self-administered questionnaires in Estonian and Russian languages comprised a large set of measures concerning environmental attitudes, beliefs and pro-environmental behavior. Emotional involvement was measured using a 10 items scale (adapted from Kals et al. 1998). Perceived restorativeness of nature was measured with a specially constructed "forest attitude" scale (which includes "fascination" and "being away" items from restorative experience scale (Laumann et al., 2001) in addition to items concerning perceived threat and pragmatic attitudes to forest). Factor structure of the emotional involvement scale is in accordance with the theoretical model (Kals, 1998) being divided into 2 factors: affinity towards nature (comprising positive feelings) and responsibility related emotions (negative feelings in reaction to perceived environmental destruction). Forest attitude scale is structurally divided into 2 factors representing utilitarian and non-utilitarian attitudes to forest. The latter consists of items related to perceived restorativeness of the forest environment. On the basis of factor analysis indexes of nature related positive and negative emotions, and a restorativeness index were computed. Mean values of these indexes differed significantly across all sociodemographic categories (except educational level): emotional reactions towards nature were more strong among Russsians compared to Estonians, among women compared to men, among older respondents compared to younger ones, among less affluent compared to the more wealthy. Place of residence did not differentiate positive emotions, whereas negative emotions were more intense among urban (vs. rural) inhabitants. Forest has more strong restorative meaning for Russians (vs. Estonians), for older persons and for the less wealthy. There were no differences related to gender or place of residence in the experienced restorativeness. As predicted, past and present experiences of nature had also significant effects on emotional involvement (the measures included: having contacts with nature at work, keeping pets at home, gardening, frequency of outdoor activities). The following psychological variables had the highest correlations with emotional involvement indexes: self-efficacy, generalized trust, collective self-esteem, collectivism and general values (biospheric, altruistic and tradition values measured with the short version of Schwartz' value scale). Emotional involvement with nature was significantly correlated with all measures of environmentalism. It had significant positive correlations with environmental concern, ecocentrism, moral commitment to protect nature, pro-environmental behavior intentions and habitual self-reported pro-environmental behavior. Emotional involvement had negative correlations with anthropocentrism and scepticism towards individual capacity to have any pro-environmental effect. Positive emotions had stronger associations with other indicators of environmentalism than negative (responsibility related) emotions. The pattern of correlations of experienced restorativeness of forest with other measures of environmentalism was similar. Both emotional involvement and perception of restorative qualities of forest are strongly related to animistic and religious beliefs: those persons who do not believe in the inherent spirituality of nature experience significantly less both positive and negative emotions in nature. Several regression analyses were performed to compare the relative importance of emotional and rational determinants of environmental attitudes and pro-environmental behavior. Theoretical implications of the results are discussed.

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