Environmental competence : the interplay between connection with nature and environmental knowledge in promoting ecological behavior

N. Roczen

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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The ultimate goal of environmental education is to advance people’s ecological performance, and not only to pass on knowledge. To be able to promote people's ecological behavior, the preceding abilities and dispositions have to be identified. In this dissertation, we conceptualize environmental competence as a model describing the interplay between environmental knowledge, connection with nature, and ecological behavior. In the first part of the thesis, we focus on the motivational constituent of our environmental competence model, connection with nature, which has been shown to be a prime motive for ecological behavior. First, we report how we developed and validated a new Rasch-model based scale to assess connection with nature. In contrast to already available instruments, participants do not have to assess their own extend of connection which demands a high level of introspection abilities. Instead, connection with nature is indirectly derived from inspecting reports of past activities and statements reflecting a positive bond with nature. Presumably, such an intellectually less demanding scale is also better suitable for the use in children and adolescents. Reliability and convergent, discriminant, and predictive validity were all reasonable. Second, two studies were undertaken to gain further insights into the origins of connection with nature. (1) Based on interview data from students high and low in their connection with nature, we corroborated that students with higher levels of connection with nature recall more enjoyable and relaxing experiences in nature than students with lower levels. (2) Subsequently, based on survey data, we further analyzed the mechanisms behind the development of connection with nature. As expected, enjoyable, gratifying experiences in nature mediated – at least partially – the relationship between time spent in nature and connection. This result points to conditioning processes that possibly play an important role in the development of connection with nature. In the second part of the thesis, we present our theoretically anticipated competence model and the empirical model test that was performed. Among the existing competence models in the literature, only our newly developed model focuses on the interrelations between ecological behavior and its prerequisites and, at the same time, includes cognitive as well as motivational propensities. While the three knowledge forms, environmental system knowledge, action-related knowledge, and effectiveness knowledge are understood as necessary prerequisites, connection with nature was expected to be the crucial motivational source behind the ecological performance of individuals. With a large sample of adolescents, the postulated model was empirically tested. Overall, the suggested model fitted the data well. We corroborated the interplay between the three knowledge forms and ecological behavior, which was previously established for adults, for adolescents as well. Moreover, we found connection with nature to be the expected strong predictor of behavior. As regards the relationship between environmental knowledge and connection with nature, a person’s connection turned out to be an only weak predictor for action-related and effectiveness knowledge. The relationship between environmental system knowledge and connection with nature was also only moderate. In conclusion, with this series of studies, we provide new insights into the origins of connection with nature and presented a measure that is not only reliable and valid, but also more suitable for children and adolescents. Furthermore, we contribute to a more profound understanding of how ecology-specific cognitive and motivational dispositions work together in advancing ecological behavior. Hopefully, the established environmental competence model will help to more effectively promote ecological behavior of adolescents.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences
  • Midden, Cees, Promotor
  • Kaiser, Florian, Promotor
Award date15 Dec 2011
Place of PublicationEindhoven
Print ISBNs978-90-386-2950-6
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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