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Challenges to understanding nonmaterial dimensions of human-nature connections, and how to address them

Rachelle K. Gould, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and Environmental Program, University of Vermont
P. Wesley Schultz, Department of Psychological Science, California State University San Marcos


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Research on the nonmaterial aspects of human-nature connections has grown steadily in recent years, yet efforts to understand nonmaterial connections between individuals and nature confront myriad challenges. We describe a set of three assumptions inherent in research on human-nature connections: (1) that the conceptions researchers are measuring exist inside a person’s head; (2) that individuals can express these conceptions (in words or otherwise); and (3) that individuals express these conceptions honestly when asked by researchers. We frame each of these assumptions as challenges, then offer suggestions for addressing each. We have found this three-part framework helpful in designing research into these difficult-to-describe connections, and we provide examples of how these assumptions and responses to them have influenced and appeared in various research traditions.

Key words

connectedness with nature; cultural ecosystem services; environmental attitudes; conservation psychology; environmental values; explicit measures; implicit measures.

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087