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Connectedness as a Core Conservation Concern: An Interdisciplinary Review of Theory and a Call for Practice


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Calls for society to ‘reconnect with nature’ are commonplace in the scientific literature and popular environmental discourse. However, the expression is often used haphazardly without the clarity of the process involved, the practical outcomes desired, and/or the relevance to conservation. This interdisciplinary review finds that the Western disconnect from nature is central to the convergent social-ecological crises and is primarily a problem in consciousness. Connectedness with nature (CWN) is therefore defined as a stable state of consciousness comprising symbiotic cognitive, affective, and experiential traits that reflect, through consistent attitudes and behaviors, a sustained awareness of the interrelatedness between one’s self and the rest of nature. CWN sits on a continuum comprising information about nature and experience in nature but is differentiated as a more holistic process for realizing transformative outcomes that serve oneself and their community. Various instruments are available to measure the CWN construct, although their cross-cultural transferability is unclear. Multiple benefits of CWN linked to physical and psychological well-being have been identified and CWN is distinct in that it supports happiness and more purposeful, fulfilling, and meaningful lives. CWN has been found as a reliable predictor and motivation for environmentally responsible behavior (ERB). CWN may benefit conservation discourse by providing: a more compelling language; hope and buffering frustration in the face of environmental crises; a more enduring motivation for ERB; and an accepted avenue for tackling ‘fuzzy’ concepts often avoided in conservation. Bolstered by interdisciplinary collaborations and action-oriented education, CWN presents itself as a radical but necessary prerequisite for realizing desired conservation and environmental behavior outcomes.
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Connectedness as a Core Conservation Concern:
An Interdisciplinary Review of Theory and a Call for Practice
Matthew J. Zylstra Andrew T. Knight
Karen J. Esler Lesley L. L. Le Grange
Received: 30 January 2013 / Revised: 28 July 2014 / Accepted: 5 September 2014 / Published online: 23 September 2014
Springer International Publishing AG 2014
Abstract Calls for society to ‘reconnect with nature’ are
commonplace in the scientific literature and popular envi-
ronmental discourse. However, the expression is often used
haphazardly without the clarity of the process involved, the
practical outcomes desired, and/or the relevance to con-
servation. This interdisciplinary review finds that the
Western disconnect from nature is central to the convergent
social-ecological crises and is primarily a problem in
consciousness. Connectedness with nature (CWN) is
therefore defined as a stable state of consciousness com-
prising symbiotic cognitive, affective, and experiential
traits that reflect, through consistent attitudes and behav-
iors, a sustained awareness of the interrelatedness between
one’s self and the rest of nature. CWN sits on a continuum
comprising information about nature and experience in
nature but is differentiated as a more holistic process for
realizing transformative outcomes that serve oneself and
their community. Various instruments are available to
measure the CWN construct, although their cross-cultural
transferability is unclear. Multiple benefits of CWN linked
to physical and psychological well-being have been iden-
tified and CWN is distinct in that it supports happiness and
more purposeful, fulfilling, and meaningful lives. CWN has
been found as a reliable predictor and motivation for
environmentally responsible behavior (ERB). CWN may
benefit conservation discourse by providing: a more com-
pelling language; hope and buffering frustration in the face
of environmental crises; a more enduring motivation for
ERB; and an accepted avenue for tackling ‘fuzzy’ concepts
often avoided in conservation. Bolstered by interdisci-
plinary collaborations and action-oriented education,
CWN presents itself as a radical but necessary prerequisite
for realizing desired conservation and environmental
behavior outcomes.
Keywords Connection with nature Environmental
behavior Human-nature relationships Nature
experience Environmental concern Conservation and
sustainability education
The human disconnect from nature is at the heart of the
perceived environmental crisis
This separation from nature is driven by physical and
psychological factors, with the latter signifying a
problem of consciousness
CWN is a stable state of consciousness comprising
symbiotic cognitive, affective, and experiential dimen-
sions that reflect a realization of the interrelatedness
between one’s self and the rest of nature
Endorsed by Karen J. Esler.
M. J. Zylstra (&)K. J. Esler
Department of Conservation Ecology & Entomology,
Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
K. J. Esler
A. T. Knight
Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London,
London, UK
K. J. Esler
Centre for Invasion Biology, Stellenbosch University,
Stellenbosch, South Africa
L. L. L. Le Grange
Department of Curriculum Studies, Faculty of Education,
Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143
DOI 10.1007/s40362-014-0021-3
CWN is positively linked with ERB and multiple
variables supporting human well-being, including
Existing theoretical knowledge of CWN needs to be
matched by greater transdisciplinary collaboration in
conservation and education to support the practice and
empirical-based evaluation of CWN implementation
CWN is foundational to effective conservation practice
and ERB and should therefore be prioritized in related
education strategies
The Call to Reconnect with Nature
‘Reconnect with nature’’ has become the mantra for
addressing humanity’s severance from the natural world.
This perceived separation is widely viewed as the primary
driver behind the global environmental crisis [17]. In
identifying future challenges for conservation biology,
Balmford and Cowling [8, p. 694] see
a great need for interdisciplinary efforts to tackle
perhaps the most pervasive underlying threat of all by
reconnecting people and natureeven if all the other
building blocks of effective conservation are in place,
we will not succeed unless the general public cares,
and they are unlikely to care enough if they no longer
experience nature directly.
This call echoes the views of ecologists, environmental
educators, and nature writers who have long stressed the
importance of individuals’ connectedness with nature
(CWN) in fostering an ethic that motivates people to
become more engaged citizens who practice environmen-
tally responsible behavior (ERB) to support resilient social-
ecological systems [3,4,915]. This call also finds support
in many natural history or bio-philosophical treatises [2,7,
However, despite the case for CWN being replete in the
literature from, for example, ecophilosophy, public health,
environmental education, nature-based tourism, outdoor
adventure, and multiple psychology disciplines, global
society has made little progress in achieving aspirations
toward CWN or behaviors which sustain biodiversity and
healthy ecosystems [8,12,17]. There is also an apparent
lack of appreciation in government, business, and the
general populace about the significance of CWN and its
relevance to societal problems [2,3]. Notwithstanding the
mounting empirical evidence and calls for society to
‘reconnect with nature,’’ a critical mass of decision-makers
and opinion leaders in governance, science, and education
circles have failed to grasp the significance of CWN in
theory and practice in terms of achieving desired social and
ecological outcomes. Of particular concern is that a serious
and sustained focus on CWN continues to evade the
majority of conservation practitioners and researchers. This
‘knowing-doing’’ gap (e.g., [18]) between the widespread
recognition of the need to reconnect with nature (as a
prerequisite for biodiversity conservation) reflects the
general absence of this concept in conservation practice
and, more generally, education. Is the task of reconnecting
people with nature fundamental to and compatible with
practices that deliver conservation outcomes? If so, is there
sufficient understanding of CWN in conservation and
sustainability education in terms of how it can be defined,
practiced, and evaluated in order to foster ERB?
In introducing the field of conservation psychology,
Saunders [19] outlines possible ways of organizing
research areas within the field. This review draws on that
format and explores theoretical, applied, and evaluative
dimensions of CWN at the individual level (primarily)and
the collective or group level. The paper, therefore, syn-
thesizes a large cross-section of interdisciplinary literature
to (1) review definitions, conceptualizations, and measures
of CWN (theoretical); (2) cover activities and practices
commonly associated with CWN (applied); (3) discuss
possible ways to measure the success of strategies pro-
moting CWN (evaluative); (4) highlight the benefits of
CWN to human well-being and ERB; and, (5) emphasize
the relevance of CWN to conservation by proposing ave-
nues for its inclusion in common discourse and education
so as to effect action [4,20,21].
Three synergistic methods have been used to guide the
literature search:
(1) Systematic Keyword searches of bibliographic e-dat-
abases: American Association for the Advancement
of Science (CrossRef), American Psychological
Association (APA), GoogleScholar, Life Sciences
(JSTOR), MEDLINE (NLM), Nature Publishing
Group (CrossRef), OneFile (GALE), SAGE Journals
Online, ScienceDirect, Scopus and Web of Science.
A three-step process was performed: i) using the
words ‘‘nature’’ with the root ‘‘connect*’’ in the title,
abstract, or keywords; (ii) searching for terms which
may encompass CWN: ‘‘nature relatedness,’’ ‘‘envi-
ronmental identity,’’ ‘‘ecological self,’’ ‘‘place
attachment,’’ and ‘‘human-nature relationship’’; and
iii) subjectively screening results according to their
perceived relevance to primarily conservation, psy-
chology, and education disciplines, and they as
pertain to CWN theory, application, and evaluation.
120 Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143
(2) Snowballing An iterative process of using citations
from the literature returned during the systematic
search as an avenue for identifying further pertinent
literature. Snowballing also included addressing
those texts as identified through the subsequent
peer-review process.
(3) Synchronicity (cf. [22,23]) Giving due consideration to
the literature which was coincidentally encountered
(through e.g., peer recommendation, serendipitous
discovery)at the ‘‘right time’’ and which found intuitive
and meaningful resonance with salient questions at that
stage of the review process. Given the multitude of
ways in which human connections with nature can be
addressed, this additional subjective filter helped
prioritize an extensive list of search results.
Notions of CWN are also replete in informally published
scholarly literature and stories of individuals’ kinship with
nature are common in many cultural accounts [24] as well
as in the writings of those who have spent prolonged
reflective time encountering the natural world [16].
Therefore, the literature review was broadened to include
other scholarship to augment the scientific peer-reviewed
literature [25]. Steps 2 and 3 were particularly helpful in
identifying informally published literature, though it is
accepted that pertinent texts may still be missing.
There is a general bias in literature toward Western con-
ceptualizations of CWN, noting however that ‘‘Western’’ is
an imprecise term which can be variously defined according
to context. In this paper, we use ‘‘Western’’ to refer to the
culture and philosophical tradition that has its historical roots
in early European cultures (e.g., Greco-Roman, Germanic),
Judaic and Christian values and Enlightenment thinking and
that has shaped Anglo-European and North American soci-
ety. This review, therefore, primarily focuses on CWN as
relevant to persons socialized to middle-class Western val-
ues on the basis that it is widely accepted that the Western
culture is largely responsible for fueling and exacerbating
humanity’s separation from nature (Table 1). However,
since Western culture (and its discourse) has been exported
through colonization and globalization, Western (and
Westernized) worldviews are no longer geographically
confined to Europe and its former colonies. In this regard,
implications of this review are cross-culturally relevant,
particularly since contemporary CWN draws much inspira-
tion from non-Western (e.g., Eastern, Indigenous) traditions.
‘Nature’’ is largely a social-cultural construction and its
conceptualization will vary across—and inevitably be
influenced by—such contexts, including disciplinary
epistemologies [26]. Readers should remain mindful of
what is ‘‘nature’’ when reflecting on this review’s impli-
cations. We use the term ‘‘nature’’ to refer to any element
of the biophysical system which includes flora, fauna, and
geological landforms occurring across a range of scales and
degrees of human presence [27]. ‘‘Nature’’ may be there-
fore conceived as the biophysical environment as it exists
without human beings. Yet this distinction remains prob-
lematic since it perpetuates the conceptual and perceptual
human/nature divide [28]. However, for the purposes of
approaching this review, it is a necessary demarcation.
An individual’s ecologically desirable actions are
described using a range of terms including: ‘‘pro-environ-
mental behavior’’ (e.g., [29]); ‘‘environmentally responsi-
ble behavior’’ (e.g., [4]); ‘‘conservation behavior’’ (e.g.,
[19]); ‘‘ecological behavior’’ (e.g., [13]); and ‘‘sustainable
behavior’’ (e.g., [30]). Here, we use the term ‘‘environ-
mentally responsible behavior’’ (ERB) to capture these
various terminologies. However, it is noted that ‘‘conser-
vation behavior’’ is not necessarily synonymous with ERB.
The Oxford Dictionary [31] defines the verb ‘‘connect’
[1. in relation to an object] as ‘‘to bring together or into
contact so that a real or notional link is established; join
together to provide access or communication,’’ and [2. with
no object] as ‘‘to form a relationship or feel affinity with
someone’’ [31]. ‘‘Connect’’ originated from late Middle
English (i.e., eighteenth century onward) to mean ‘‘be
united physically’’ from the Latin connectere—from con
(together) and nectere (bind). The Oxford Dictionary [31]
definition for ‘‘reconnect’’ [1. to an object] is ‘‘connect
back together’’ and [2. with no object] to ‘‘re-establish a
bond of communication or emotion.’’ This etymology
informs understandings of CWN and points toward a
communicative relationship involving a process of physical
contact and/or emotional bonding.
‘Reconnect,’’ like other terms in the conservation lexi-
con (e.g., restore, rehabilitate, regenerate, reforest), implies
a perceived loss and a quest to return to a more desirable,
but often difficult-to-define, state. While some of these
terms relate purely to ecological systems, ‘‘reconnect’’ (and
‘restore’’) may equally apply to the human-nature rela-
tionship. ‘‘Reconnect with nature’’ serves well as a generic
call for behavior change; however, in contrast to the
measurable state of CWN, it is action- and process–ori-
ented, difficult to pinpoint as a measurable ‘‘state’’ and is
therefore of limited use as scientific nomenclature.
Scholars may therefore refer to any of the following:
‘connectedness to nature’’ [13], ‘‘connectivity with nat-
ure’’ [32], ‘‘connection to nature’’ [33], ‘‘nature connec-
tion’’ [34], or ‘‘nature relatedness’’ [4]. We prefer
‘connectedness with nature’’ (CWN) instead of ‘‘connect-
edness to nature’’ because it evokes the subtle yet impor-
tant idea that (1) humans are already an intimate part of
Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143 121
nature and (2) that the state imbues a sense of reciprocity
and mutualism. In this paper, we use ‘‘disconnect’’ to refer
to the physical and psychological (i.e., cognitive, affective,
and experiential) separation from nature.
The Disconnect from Nature
The drivers of humanity’s disconnect from nature have been
extensively debated and documented [1,3,28,3548].
Drivers may fall into four different categories: (1) psycho-
logical severance; (2) physical severance; (i.e., events and
trends that initiated the disconnect from nature); (3) psy-
chological maintenance; and (4) physical maintenance (i.e.,
events and trends that perpetuate or exacerbate the
disconnect from nature) (Table 1). All drivers are likely to
have been influenced by—or are a result of—cultural norms
or discourses [43]. The drivers may fit within more than one
type, as one driver may function to cause disconnection in
multiple ways; for example, technology-mediated lifestyles
could fall into all four types, depending on context and how
broadly ‘‘technology’’ is defined. Similarly, the physical
driver’s may stem from prevailing psychological mindsets;
for example, colonialism as a result of a ‘‘logic of domina-
tion’’ [41] and historical drivers may still persist today (e.g.,
legacies of Ancient Greek, Cartesian, Enlightenment, and
Modernist thinking). We have thus pragmatically classified
according to which type of disconnect is, in accordance with
common associations made in the literature, most likely a
result of the respective drivers (Table 1).
Table 1 Types and drivers of the human (Eurocentric/Western) disconnect from nature
Psychological Physical
Initial historical drivers
Advent of language: (Greek phonetic) written word and
subject-verb-object grammar structure [148,265]
Adopting select interpretations of Judaism and
Christianity [28,46,266268]
Ancient Greek philosophies, e.g., rationalism [41,51,
Cartesian dualism and deductive reasoning [7,41,43,44,
Enlightenment ideals of the educated mind [55,270]
Modernism and the disinterested sciences [63,64,271]
Loss of respect, humility, and empathy with nature [66]
General disenchantment of the universe [1,37,63,66]
General disenchantment of the universe [1,37,63,66]
Valorization of individual endeavor [44,63]
Early civilization (abandoning ‘the wild’) [35,272,273]
Domestication of plants and animals [1,35]
Totalitarian agriculture, land tenure, and ownership [1,
Roman system of divide and rule [103]
Colonialism (and a logic of domination) [1,41,44]
Industrial revolution and a doctrine of progress [59,62,
Migration from rural to urban centers [39,275]
Alienation from food sources (esp. meat) [28,276]
Non-reliance/dependency on consumptive uses of
nature [59]
Adversarial nature, e.g., disease, fires, plagues,
earthquakes, and extreme climatic events [57]
Continual present-day
drivers (maintenance/
Stronger, sharper ego ‘‘I’’ structure (than, e.g., non-
Western persons), individual-referenced identity,
limited self-concept [277,278]
Arrested development as a juvenile-like psychosis
Embrace of mechanistic achievements (‘‘Light’’) as
human triumphs over wild nature (‘‘Dark’’)
Epistemic and disciplinary scientific divides (embodying
subject-object dualisms) [37,41,42,268]
Rejection of non-Western ways of knowing [255,279]
Technology-mediated lifestyles [43,49]
Information and sensory overload [81,85,87]
‘Environmental numbness,’’ insulation from
environmental stimuli, sensory shutdowns
Environmental generational amnesia [69,282]
‘Shifting baselines’’ (in memory, perception) [283]
Alienation from rural and wild environments [3,7,55,
Scale (size and speed) of urbanization [284]
Poor design and development of the built environment
Physiological (survival) needs easily met (i.e., little
concept of the lower orders of ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of
Needs’) [173,285];
Exploitation of—and distancing from—animals [28,
Indoor sedentary entertainment [8]
Television- and online-based environmentalism and
broadcasted documentaries [275,287]
Extinction of experience (with nature) [69,288]
Explosive population growth [289]
Globalization and multinational corporatism [218]
122 Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143
The call to reconnect seeks to overcome peoples’ gen-
eral perception as being separate from, and typically out-
side and above, nature and ecology (e.g., food-webs) [37,
41,49,50]. This ‘‘blind spot’’—that is, an inability to see
oneself as part of nature and a denial of one’s dependency
on nature—is recognized as a key contributor to ongoing
environmental destruction [4,28,41,51]. More funda-
mentally, the human/nature ‘‘hyperseparation’’ embedded
in the Western discourse is intimately linked to pervasive
cognitive assumptions which split a unified reality into
gendered dualisms (e.g., mind/body, reason/emotion, civi-
lized/primitive, light/dark) – all of which tend to privilege
the dominant former (masculine) over the latter (feminine)
[41,5254]. Similar schisms are found within religion (as a
separation theology with a masculine God removed from
His creation (a feminine Earth)) and science (as a Carte-
sian-inspired separation ontology where nature (femi-
nine) may be an object for detached human observation,
possession, and control (masculine) [7,55]).
The excessive subject/object partitioning of the world
impedes people’s ability to see or imagine connections
between their thinking, doing, and being– a split that
Spinoza already identified in the seventeenth century as
being detrimental to a spiritual vision of the world [42,
56]. Mechanistic thinking was of measurable benefit to
the biophysical sciences emerging during this period in
the same way that dominionistic thinking enabled gov-
ernments to offer citizens a degree of security and pro-
tection against adversarial nature (e.g., natural disasters
and disease) [57,58]. However, in both cases, such
thinking and the values it supported was devastating to
the human sense of belonging, mutualism, and connection
with nature, earth, and the cosmos as a whole [5860].
The perils of industrialization (as part of a doctrine of
‘progress’’ [61,62]) and scientific rationalization on the
human-nature relationship were also highlighted by the
Romantic Movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries [63], even though Romanticism itself has since
been criticized for ‘‘fetishizing’’ nature as being
unspoiled, wild and something to be admired from afar
[61]. In any case, such resistance gradually gave way to
Realism and was further displaced by burgeoning post-
war consumerism, resource exploitation, and technology-
reliant lifestyles fueled by a disenchanted capitalist-driven
culture [1,2,59,61,62,6466]. Some suggest that in
losing contact with the poetry, archetypal myth, and
symbolism of nature, we are creating a world devoid of
meaning and further severing our connectedness with the
planet [61,67,68].
As people de-sensitize and/or adapt to these social and
environmental changes, the (acceptable) reference point
for measuring the extent of the human/nature disconnect
is lowered with each generation [69].The cumulative
result is the ‘‘extinction of experience’’: a devolution
toward a largely unnoticed loss of regular, direct, and
meaningful contact with nature [2,19,69]. This enlarges
the ‘‘blind spot’’ concerning dependency on nature, can
invoke fear and intolerance of certain species and has
profound implications for ecologies, societies, economies,
and human well-being [3,5,70]. We see this as a
debilitating convergence of crises (or ‘‘polycrisis’’ [71])
driven by the perceptual disconnect from nature. Refer-
ence to perception alerts us to a problem that is intimately
tied to consciousness (Box 1)[1,51]. Understanding
the human disconnect from nature as a problem in
consciousness may yield valuable insight toward
Modern urban society is filled with potent stimuli: for
example, electronic media and advertising which, in
addition to creating an illusion of distance from nature
[5], place constant demands on attention and the sensory
field within consciousness [85,87,88]. We contend that
persons increasingly suffer from inattention nature
blindness as ecological phenomena are edited from con-
scious awareness in favor of this artificial ‘‘super stimuli’
which contain more immediate compelling sensory and
emotional content [89]. Inattention nature blindness
reinforces peoples’ perception as being separate from
nature, since ecological phenomena no longer form a part
of the experiences which shape consciousness. Westerners
are more vulnerable to inattention blindness as they tend
to fixate on focal objects, ignoring background and con-
textual information [8991]. The implications are pro-
found as this challenges assumptions about the
universality of nature experience as well as the desired
objectivity of scientific observation [92]. If we perceive
what we look for, remaining blind to what else is present
[93], then this directed attention away from nature may be
central to the ‘‘crisis of perception’’ which, in turn, fuels a
more fundamental crisis in consciousness.[94,95].
Contemporary human consciousness is therefore being
distracted to the extent that we remain entrapped in the
mundane, unable to perceive the full spectrum of phe-
nomena arising in nature [1,51,63,95]. This intimately
ties back to the ‘‘extinction of experience’’: without the
direct experience of nature needed to form an ecological
consciousness, we cannot expect an ecological conscience
which motivates care and action [51]. Reconnecting with
nature therefore requires more than cultural reprogram-
ming: it requires cultivating a consciousness that is attuned
to the natural processes that have shaped human evolution
over millennia.
Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143 123
Definitions and Conceptualizations of CWN
In following Saunders [19] suggestion for organizing
conservation psychology research areas, this review first
addresses theoretical and conceptual dimensions of CWN
at the individual level. Multiple scholars have endeavored
to describe or define CWN (e.g., [4,7,12,13,19,32,43,
96101]). Descriptions of CWN vary according to the
emphasis placed on the relative importance of the three key
dimensions of cognition (e.g., perceptions, knowledge, and
beliefs about nature and its relationship to one’s sense of
self) affect (e.g., feelings and emotions toward nature) and
behavior (e.g., actions and experiences with/in nature)
[102]. Since each of these dimensions interrelates and
influences the other, CWN may be conceptualized as being
an outcome of each—although often realized through a
process of receiving information, having an experience,
being affected, and finding connectedness, which may
crystallize as commitment over time (Fig. 1).
Historically, numerous descriptions of CWN have been
grounded in cognitive notions about one’s relationship with
nature and often based on the premise that knowledge of
social-ecological interactions is sufficient to create a con-
servation ethic [102]. Most standard education and
environmental awareness approaches have therefore
focused on the provision of information about nature
which is usually transferred though formal curricula,
internet and media sources, field guides and may satisfy a
curiosity or an urge ‘‘to know more’’ [103].While
increasing research has called the effectiveness of such
approaches into question [11,29,49], CWN nevertheless
requires some cognitive dimensions. In this regard, a
number of descriptions of CWN recognize the importance
of an expanded self-construct which encompasses (and
reciprocates with) all life-forms [7,104]. For example,
Schultz (e.g., [7,24,96]) sees CWN as the degree to which
an individual includes (a knowledge structure of) ‘‘nature’
within their identity or cognitive representation of ‘‘self’
[102]. This closely aligns with concepts such as ‘‘envi-
ronmental identity’’ [105] and ‘‘ecological self’’ which
refer to the essence of oneself with which one readily
identifies [12,43,104,106].
More recently, the affective dimensions of CWN have
been given greater attention (e.g., [13,98,101,102,107])
since it is has been found that that emotional connections are
key predictors for environmental concern and ERB [13,32,
102,108]. Scholars have focused on different aspects of
affect. For example, Mayer and Frantz [13] describe CWN in
terms of Leopold’s land ethic [9] and focus on dimensions
Box 1 Key concepts for consciousness and CWN
Despite scientific advances, consciousness, as a real phenomenon with a rational biological explanation, remains elusive, perplexing, and
mysterious [60,7274]. The term ‘‘consciousness’’ is ambiguous since it is used across multiple contexts and with reference to multiple
phenomena, (e.g., ‘‘awakeness,’’ ‘‘to be conscious of something,’’ ‘‘to know about something,’’ or to refer to cognitive or attention capacity
[75, p. 6]). For the purposes of this review, the following traits of consciousness are of specific relevance:
(1) Perception Perception may be understood as either primary sensory perception (the ‘‘experiencing self’’ [75] in the present) or secondary
reflective perception (‘‘remembering self’’ [75] in the past). Both types of perception are conventionally classified as cognitive functions
since an individual’s pre-existing cognitive concepts are used to frame, compare, and interpret incoming information which, in turn, form
part of the complex process of mental model building in consciousness [7678]. However, primary and secondary perception may have
different but complementary applications for CWN, with primary perception mostly relying on embodied sensory awareness and
secondary perception mostly employing conceptualized memory recall. In terms of CWN, it may therefore be more illuminating to make
the distinction in consciousness as either [72]:
(i) Phenomenal: primary sensory perception in immediate experience as mediated by the body
(ii)Psychological secondary reflective perception in memory as mediated by conceptual processes of the mind (e.g., mental models and
memory recall)
Despite being intimately entwined, both forms of perception should be considered when attempting to understand the disconnect from nature
and the ways in which these forms perception might be influenced to cultivate a consciousness conducive to CWN
(2) Experience Consciousness is a product of an individual’s accumulated diverse experiences—being conscious of the world allows one to
survive in it, experience it, and endow it with meaning [63,7274,76,79]. Experience, as it relates to consciousness and CWN, involves a
personal encounter or event that is perceived and lived through; the senses organizing and interpreting stimuli (phenomena) in the external
world [63,76,78]. Perception is a mode of human experience as well as a prerequisite for other forms of experience (e.g., bodily,
imaginative) that form consciousness [73,76]
(3) Attention Consciousness is always directed toward something. This self-willed intentionality—or directed attention—is the effortful,
conscious process of utilizing cognitive resources to focus perception on selected stimuli, while filtering, diluting, or avoiding distraction
from unrelated, irrelevant, or competing stimuli [27,80,81]. This determines what, how, and for how long a person gives something
attention, whereby choices feedback and determine the content of everyday consciousness (i.e., experiences) [63]. Neuroscience
demonstrates that an individual’s focus of attention determines the strength of brain synapses and the size of cortex areas [82,83].The
capacity for humans to direct attention in this way appears to serve as (i) a coping mechanism to avoid the senses being overwhelmed and
fatigued from all the stimuli (noise) in perceptual experience [76,8486] and (ii) an evolutionary tool allowing humans to pay attention to
phenomena that may impact upon survival or involve problem solving, but which requires effort to sustain attention (e.g., listening for
sounds of predators [63]). In both cases, considerable (mental) effort is required to resist distractions from more potent stimuli [81]
124 Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143
such as an individual’s trait level of feeling emotionally
connected and belonging to the natural community [99]. Kals
et al. [98]. refer to emotional inclinations such as love,
respect, and oneness with nature [7], while other researchers
have given attention to the role of active care, sympathy, and
empathy for nature [109,110]. All appear to have their place
in terms of links with sensitivity to nature and ERB; how-
ever, it is equally clear that such feelings are intimately tied
to direct bodily experience.
The experience of nature features heavily in the increasing
research being done in areas of health promotion and well-
being (e.g., [3,27,48,111,112]). Generally, experience in
nature or contact with nature tends to be seen as encompassing
outdoor sports, set recreational activities, nature-based tour-
ism, eco-adventure and is usually pursued in order ‘‘to feel
better’’ or receive physical gratification [103].Through field
trips, experience in nature may also facilitate deeper cognitive
understanding of information learned or received about nat-
ure. However, such activities tend to be mostly structured,
purposefully targeted and/or constrained by time and context
(Fig. 1). While a sense of CWN may unintentionally arise out
of such physical-based activities, it is evident that the expe-
riential dimensions of CWN may have a different quality and
be characterized by being relatively unstructured, creative,
playful, and acutely sensory aware. In focusing attention,
such (in)activities cultivate a degree of stillness in the mind
and body [103].
CWN therefore appears as a complex and veritable mix
of synergistic information about feelings toward and
experiences in or with nature (Fig. 1). Nisbet et al. [4].
recognize this with their multi-dimensional concept of
nature relatedness which, in also drawing on the deep
ecology notion of an ‘‘ecological self’’ [43,45,54,104]
blends cognitive, affective, and experiential connections
with nature [4,113]. In terms of realizing CWN, experi-
ence maybe most insightful, since it can involve the
‘dissolution of boundaries and a sense of a shared or
common essence between the self, nature, and others’’ [27,
p. 274]. Such meaningful experiences are capable of
invoking strong affective responses as well as playing a
Fig. 1 Conceptual framework of key components comprising con-
nectedness with nature (CWN). Depicts CWN as comprising: infor-
mation about nature;experience in nature;connectedness with nature;
and committed connectedness with nature.Information about nature is
primarily based on cognitive concepts, intellect, and information as
obtained through education or media to satisfy the mind’s curiosity and
increase knowledge [103]. Experience in nature includes outdoor
sports and recreation, facilitated eco-adventure and field trips, and is
usually sought after to help the body and mind feel better or to support
experiential learning [103]. Such activities are often (semi-) structured
and constrained by time or have a particular purpose. In contrast, CWN
is often (unintentionally) realized through unstructured activities which
are free from strict time constraints or targeted outcomes. CWN arises
through affective experience following, for example, extended nature
immersion and may inspire and enliven one’s spirit. Committed (or
‘deep’’) CWN refers to the sustained embodiment of this tripartite as a
behavioral set aimed at serving social and ecological communities
through transformative leadership [34,103]. According to Young [103],
individuals may best achieve this committed (deep) CWN through an
intentional process of being strategically mentored as part of a culturally
embedded process [103]. The conceptual framework (this figure)
highlights that CWN requires balancing faculties of mind, body, and
spirit (i.e., one’s source(s) of inspiration) to generate willpower aimed at
actualizing ‘‘self’’ and being of service to others
Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143 125
pivotal role in reframing an individual’s cognitive repre-
sentation of their relationship with nature [63,114118].
Some people may encounter this as a transpersonal (e.g.,
spiritual) phenomenon [32,54,119122]. In this regard,
Beringer [123] points out that reducing the human rela-
tionship to nature as only conforming to the classical ‘A–
B–C’’ (affect–behavior–cognition) of psychology does not
encompass the richness and ineffability of human experi-
ence which interpenetrates the rational and physical world.
It is therefore argued that these soulful and spiritual aspects
need to be identified, understood, and reconciled with
conservation (science) as part of a necessary moral and
ethical sensibility for confronting the convergent social and
ecological crises driven by the disconnect from nature [39,
Despite this rationale, ‘‘spirituality’’ nevertheless faces
impediments for its inclusion in CWN conceptualizations.
Firstly, ontological and epistemic contestations (e.g., con-
ceptual views of reality) limit the extent that spirituality
can be regarded as being distinct from (i.e., other than an
emergent property of) the accepted A–B–C dimensions of
an individual’s consciousness. Secondly, while spirituality
may form an integral part of a person’s CWN and contain
nature-based transcendental components [120], spirituality
may not necessarily be a prerequisite for establishing some
level of CWN. This assertion is made largely on the basis
that, in Western discourse, the term ‘‘spirituality’’ is con-
founded by a multitude of layered meanings; individuals
may not consider their CWN as having a spiritual com-
ponent even though they may express their relationship to
nature in a way that suggests otherwise. Given that spiri-
tuality is often understood as denoting an ‘‘other-worldli-
ness’’ defying scientific or rational explanation [120,124],
spirituality tends to be either dismissed as a serious topic
for discussion or avoided because common interpretations
of spirituality do not align with personal definitions or
experiences. To bypass such roadblocks in terms of
defining CWN, we prefer to use ‘‘spirit’’ instead of ‘‘spir-
ituality’’ to refer to that which serves as an individual’s
source of inspiration [126].
On this basis, CWN may be
distinguished by its ability to awaken one’s ‘‘spirit’’ and
induce an ‘‘aliveness’’ that is considered a common and
desirable trait of CWN, as a result of being consistently in
touch with, appreciative of, and inspired by nature (Fig. 1)
Researchers note that CWN is more than a fleeting ‘‘warm
feeling’’ experienced after spending time outdoors [48,102].
As Nisbet et al. [4].see it, CWN comprises feelings and
thoughts that include an appreciative understanding of the
interconnectedness of life as well as experiences and
behaviors that exhibit action and agency toward the envi-
ronment. The latter points to the importance of sustained
commitment in that CWN should ideally consist of less
transient and more enduring (i.e., stable) states of CWN over
time. In this sense, a committed CWN refers to the willed
embodiment of cognitive, affective, experiential, and con-
nections with ‘‘spirit’’ as part of a behavior set which aims to
‘give back’’ (or ‘‘pay it forward’’) through leadership in
service of social-ecological communities (Fig. 1; Table 3)
[103,127]. According to Young [127], individuals are likely
to only achieve this ‘‘deep’’ CWN through an intentional
process of being strategically mentored as part of a culturally
embedded (i.e., community based) process [127]
(Table 3). Literature comprising this review generally does
not delineate between CWN and committed CWN; it is,
however, an important distinction to make as ultimately
personal well-being and the motivation for ERB rests on a
sustained sense of CWN that balances faculties of mind,
body, and spirit with willpower. This review uses CWN to
refer to this more enduring state; however, it is noted that the
measures, indicators, and practices outlined later in the paper
may not always be referring to the same.
Attempts to produce a definitive and fixed definition of
CWN are idealistic and may even border on arrogance,
particularly since a sense of CWN is very personal [120].
However, in synthesizing the literature above, the follow-
ing characterization of CWN is proposed: CWN is a stable
state of consciousness comprising symbiotic cognitive,
affective, and experiential traits that reflect, through con-
sistent attitudes and behaviors, a sustained awareness of the
interrelatedness between one’s self and the rest of nature.
CWN is more than the simple contact or superficial
enjoyment of nature: it is an enduring appreciation,
empathy, and mindfulness of the intrinsic value and shared
essence of all life—including non-(aesthetically) appealing
and non-(apparently) useful elements to humans: that is, it
transcends hedonism, speciesism, and functional utilitari-
anism. CWN manifests as a commitment to action (i.e., a
resolve to respect and take responsibility for conserving
nature) [4,48,101,113,128,129].
Measuring and Quantifying CWN (Empirical)
Since the 1970s, psychological research has been investi-
gating relationships between various predictor variables
The etymology of ‘‘spirituality’’ is related to the Latin spiritus
meaning ‘‘soul, courage, vigor, breath’’ and spirare ‘to breathe’
[296]. ‘‘Inspiration’’ is therefore the act of ‘breathing in,’ to be
animated by something of power (e.g., ‘God’) [297]. In terms of
CWN and spirituality, it is also important to distinguish between:
spiritual ethos/belief (primarily cognitive); spiritual experience
(primarily affective); and spiritual practice (primarily experiential
and behavioral) as symbiotic components of one’s ‘‘spirituality’’
126 Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143
and measures of environmental concern, attitude, and
behavior [11,130]. Despite CWN’s long-standing theo-
retical presence in philosophical and environmentalist lit-
erature, attempts to empirically distill, isolate, and refine
the CWN construct for the purposes of psychological
testing have only gained momentum since the turn of the
millennium [32]. This newfound focus has been coupled
with the growing realization that (1) environmental atti-
tudes, concerns, beliefs, and behaviors alone are insuffi-
cient in explaining individuals’ relationships with nature
and their motivation behind ERB [4]; (2) while efforts to
understand individuals’ ERB have tended to focus on
personality, knowledge, and skills as predictors [4,131], it
is motivation (as a complex blend of implicit and explicit
attitudes, beliefs, intent, values, norms, locus of control,
personality traits, and knowledge influenced by internal
and external factors [11,12,88,132]) which drives indi-
vidual behavioral choices [11,49,131]; and (3) CWN can
influence motivation and be a core motivation in itself. For
example, CWN has been found to be a primary motivation
for conservation volunteers to engage with projects—
which, in turn, sustains their contact with nature [133].
CWN was the core motivation for inspiring Dutch forest
managers to carry out their work since their personal and
professional actions were embedded in a CWN which
transcended the individual and represented an ‘‘ultimate
concern’’ for wanting to manage forests effectively [122].
Altogether, the prospect that CWN may help foster ERB
has motivated environmental psychologists to develop
corresponding measures [7].
The human relationship with the natural world is
deeply entwined with the conscious and subconscious
mind and is therefore difficult to access for scientific
analysis [3]. Similarly, assessing CWN is challenging,
since an individual’s worldview may not be well
developed and their sense of CWN is not always given
conscious consideration or is readily available for
retrieval [12]. However, in recent years, various instru-
ments have been developed which aim to measure CWN
or a suitable proxy (Table 2). The more frequently cited
instruments in the literature include Emotional Affinity
toward Nature (EAN) [98]; Inclusion of Nature in Self
(INS) [134]; Environmental Identity Scale (EIS) [105];
Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS) [13]; and the
Nature Relatedness Scale (NRS) [4,7]. The INS, CNS,
and NRS are briefly expanded upon here.
The INS is a single-item instrument designed to measure
the degree to which an individual includes nature as part of
their identity [96,102]. The conceptual model behind the
INS recognizes ‘inclusion’ as consisting of a sense of
connection (cognitive); a caring response (affective); and a
commitment to action (behavioral) [28,96,102]. The INS
invites participants to express their CWN by choosing one
of seven diagrams that depict pairs of circles (i.e., one
circle representing ‘Self’ and one representing ‘Nature’)
with varying degrees of overlap.
The CNS is a 14-statement single-factor instrument
measuring an individual’s conscious, stated level of
affective relatedness, and kinship with nature [27]. The
CNS seeks to operationalize Leopold’s ‘‘land ethic’’: that
is, a perceived and affective sense of belonging to the
natural community and a cognitive representation of ‘‘self’
that includes the natural world, such that harm to nature is
experienced as harm to self [9,135]. The CNS is designed
to overcome shortcomings identified with earlier CWN
measures (Table 2) as well as providing an avenue for
bringing less research-oriented discussions of CWN into
the more research-oriented realm of psychology [13]. The
CNS has been shown to be a reliable predictor for ERB
(including identifying oneself as an environmentalist) and
Table 2 Instruments used for measuring (aspects and traits of) connectedness with nature (CWN)
Instrument Reference (Author, Year)
Emotional Affinity toward Nature (EAN) Kals et al. 1999, [98]
New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) (revised) Dunlap et al. 2000, [290]
Inclusion of Nature in Self (INS) Schultz 2001, [134]
Environmental Identity Scale (EIS) Clayton 2003, [105]
Implicit Associations Test (IAT) (modified) Schultz 2004, [12]
Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS) Mayer and Frantz 2004, [13]
Connectivity with Nature Scale (CwNS) Dutcher et al. 2007, [32]
Nature Relatedness Scale (NRS) Nisbet et al. 2009, [4]
Love and Care for Nature (LCN) Perkins 2010, [291]
Connection to Nature Index (CNI) Cheng and Monroe 2010, [101]
Disposition to Connect with Nature (DCN) Bru
¨gger et al. 2011, [292]
Nature Connectedness Inventory (NCI) Ernst and Theimer 2011, [139]
Dispositional Empathy with Nature Scale (DENS) Tam 2013, [100]
Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143 127
subjective well-being (including improved life satisfaction,
overall happiness, perspective-taking abilities, and resolu-
tion abilities for interpersonal problems and moral dilem-
mas) [7,13,136]. While primarily a trait measure, the CNS
has also been adapted to measure CWN as a ‘‘state’
response to situational factors, such as exposure to different
external environments [102,136]. Shortcomings of the
CNS have been identified, including its inability to fully
measure affective and experiential dimensions of CWN as
intended [4,130]. The CNS, like the INS, appears more a
Table 3 Selected competences and practices for cultivating connectedness with nature (CWN) at the individual and collective level
Level Competences Practices for cultivating competences Literature
Individual (personal routines) Quiet mind Still for extended introspection/sits in nature [28,34,166
Awareness Engage and expand natural survival senses
Attentiveness Focus on nature signs: tracks, calls, phenology
Interaction Touch nature to foster subject–subject view
Sense of place Know your area: map, wander, sit, explore
Curiosity Practice inquisitive questioning, reflection
Appreciation Cultivate awe, wonder, gratitude for nature
Creativity Do art, poetry, story, music, imagination, play
Problem solving Experiment and improvise for self sufficiency
Green care Participate in nature-based therapy, farming or exercise
Holistic perspective See reality as interconnected, reciprocated
Attunement Awaken to/harmonize with earth’s language and wisdom
Collective/Group (social-
cultural fabric and systems
of governance)
‘Invisible school’’ &
Social networks
Recreate a supportive community-based cultural fabric for
ecological learning, e.g., mentorship, nature-based schools,
outdoor education and family centered activities
Citizen science/NGO
Promote civic engagement with field-based ecological research,
with a secondary aim to cultivate naturalist intelligence and
Sustained service to the
Endorse selfless actions which, in showing appreciation of
ecology and the web of life, acknowledge that individuals
have autonomy in developing a sense of identity in order to
play their role or function in their ‘niche’ in serving the
community at large
Eco-literacy and
Formulate education programs which fuse human and natural
histories, and blend arts and sciences toward nature
Land ethic For issues of social and ecological importance, center public
dialog on a Leopoldian land ethic
Community justice/
Empower responsible systems which place human rights, and
community-based equity at their core
Local focus Encourage place-based environmental decision-making to be
locally informed and monitored in partnership with a central
(governmental) agency
environmental dialogs
Work toward a system of consensus decision-making, whereby
consensus is the gradual process of building both
understanding and commitment, which has been achieved
through dialog that has satisfactorily ensured all perspectives
were considered
Ecological restoration/
Repair and rehabilitate areas of natural value, for reasons
ecological, economic and cultural. Reinstate ecosystem
resilience (as a basis for social resilience)
Collective action (with
social norms and
Employ social marketing tools and techniques (e.g., using
commitments, norms, prompts, goal setting, incentives,
motivational messages and social diffusion) to shape the
prevailing social norms and discourses such that they align
with CWN and promote ERB and collective action
128 Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143
measure of an individual’s cognitive beliefs about their
CWN but which taps into affective aspects [4,130]. Nev-
ertheless, the CNS’s test–retest consistency and correlation
to other related instruments (Table 2) support its reliability
and validity [13].
The NRS is a 21-item 3-factor ‘‘trait-like’’ measure
claimed to be a more complete construct, overcoming
limitations of the CNS and measuring more than environ-
mentalism, activism, cognitive beliefs, and superficially
pleasing facets of nature [4]. It includes elements con-
cerning physical interaction, comfort level, and familiarity
with nature as well as active commitments and personal
responsibility toward mitigating impacts on the environ-
ment [128].The NRS has been found to be valid and
internally consistent, temporally stable and correlated with
time spent outdoors, in nature, and with measures of
environmental attitudes and behaviors [4]. The NRS sig-
nificantly predicts subjective hedonic well-being as well as
eudaimonic well-being (i.e., meaning of life, positive
functioning as related to, for example, personal growth,
purpose in life and positive relations with others) [7,137].
People scoring higher on the NRS (i.e., nature-related
persons) are usually more open to experience, agreeable,
and conscientious [4].
Despite various authors (e.g., [4,13]) investigating
intercorrelations between different CWN measures as a
way to support the reliability and validity of their own
constructs, the potential convergence (e.g., overlap in
labels, scale items) or divergence (e.g., whether different
aspects of CWN are captured) of CWN constructs
(Table 2) has only been recently examined empirically [7].
Tam [7] finds that the convergence of multiple CWN
measures (Table 2) allows for CWN to be considered as a
broad latent construct in itself, whereby findings can be
discussed within one integrated CWN framework (as
opposed to only focusing on separate associations with
specific measures). In aiming to select the appropriate
CWN measure, researchers can be reassured that correla-
tions with variables will be of similar direction and mag-
nitude across all measures [7]. However, the divergence
found between measures shows that they are not identical
and, specifically, highlight that measures which are multi-
dimensional (e.g., EIS, NRS) and which can tap into cog-
nitive and affective dimensions of CWN (e.g., NRS, LCN,
and possibly INS and CNS) will perform better [7]. These
findings highlight that while CWN may have many unique
meanings and traits (i.e., multi-dimensional), it shares a
common foundation [7]. CWN measures could possibly be
further improved by including dimensions of collective
identity (as conceived in social psychology and sociology
literature) [7,138].
The instruments outlined above and those reviewed by
Tam [7] have generally been designed for adults, although
some (e.g., CNS) include adaptations for older children
[102,139]. Converting CWN instruments for use with
children is problematic as statements and concepts used
within various scales contain language and subtle nuances
that may be beyond the comprehension of most children
[102]. Two measures explicitly developed for children are
the connection to nature index (CNI) [101] and the nature
connectedness inventory (NCI) [139]. Both instruments
draw on Mayer and Frantz’s [13] approach: the CNI’s
4-factor trait instrument was influenced by their definition
of CWN along with other studies on environmental atti-
tudes, while the NCI’s 11-item scale addressed the same
areas underlying Mayer and Frantz’s CNS [13] with
additional items examining children’s feelings about nature
[101,102,139]. Survey questions that ask children about
their feelings toward nature, rather than their concepts of
connectedness have been found to be more successful when
testing such instruments [102]
In applying any CWN measure, researchers need to
remain aware of three potential limitations. Firstly, like all
self-report measures, there is inherent uncertainty in the
validity of the results produced. For example, participants
may need to have an explicit belief about their relation-
ships with nature readily available for retrieval and report
without bias [12,140]. Secondly, in noting the tendency for
many CWN studies to draw on sample populations from
undergraduate (often psychology) student populations [4,
7,13,107,141143], it is possible that this may constitute
a non-representative sample group with specific disposi-
tions toward CWN [12,26]. Thirdly, the validity and
transferability of CWN measures are limited by the geog-
raphy of research in this field, which is primarily focussed
on North America. The possibility that both the conceptual
and empirical basis of the CWN construct may not be as
applicable to other cultural groups is rarely made explicit,
despite research highlighting cross-cultural differences in
CWN [21,144146]. The way people experience and
connect with nature is influenced by demographics (e.g.,
life-stage and transferability of middle-class U.S. values
and lifestyle choices [147]); geographies (e.g., varying
opportunities for contact with nature [7] ); and culture and
language (differing conceptual constructs and collective
ways of expressing the human-nature relationship [148,
149]). People from different cultures will also vary in how
they understand, interpret, and express themselves when
responding to surveys [7]. We caution that Western-
developed scales tested on Western-socialized individuals
cannot assume compatibility with non-Western groups—
language and comprehension differences aside.
In addition to recommending increased community and
cross-cultural testing, we suggest that these quantitative
CWN measures be complemented with qualitative tech-
niques as part of a mixed methods approach (cf. [150]) for
Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143 129
broadening and deepening the understanding of CWN.
Qualitative meaning always forms the context for the
quantitative and may help give insight into how knowledge,
perceptions, or emotions toward nature is transformed into
action [151,152]. Incorporating phenomenological explo-
rations alongside natural and social science methods may
capture the experience and essence of CWN as it is mean-
ingfully lived [63,79,121,153,154]. However, an indi-
vidual’s ability to convey what a sense of CWN feels like or
means to their life may be constrained by the limitations of
language and their ability to describe it [63,120,148].
In this light, understandings and measures of CWN will
continue to evolve. In distilling current knowledge across
interdisciplinary literature, we recommend that refining and
applying CWN measures will be oriented by an apprecia-
tion that CWN is the extent to which an individual’s
thoughts (e.g., reflective perceptions, conscious, or implicit
attitudes or cognitive beliefs) and actions (e.g., instinctive,
reflexive, reasoned, or cultural practices) embody the
relatedness between themselves and nature and reflect a
sense of personal responsibility, respect, and reverence for
all life over various temporal and spatial contexts.
Practices and Strategies for CWN (Applied)
As proposed by Saunders [19], the second type of research
in conservation psychology is the applied component of
identifying effective strategies; in this case, fostering
CWN. Little empirical attention in the scientific literature
has been given to context-specific strategies, practices, and
actions which may be effective in helping individuals or
groups cultivate CWN.
Saunders [19] suggests that, in addition to creating
better conceptual models (about, e.g., the relationship
between CWN and ERB), more applied research is needed
to identify strategies which cultivate care and concern for
nature. Such progress has been made with research on, for
example, significant life experiences [152,155157],
restorative qualities of nature [85,87,141,158] environ-
mental identity and place attachment [38,105,144,159
161], and wilderness journeys [87,117,119,162164].
Keniger et al.’s [59] 2013 interdisciplinary review is a
helpful addition with their typology of the indirect, inci-
dental, and intentional interactions between people and
nature. The authors note that the intent behind the inter-
action may be pivotal in whether or how ERB is realized
[11,59,141]. Few of these studies focus on the types and
qualities of activities which may be replicated over time
and space in order to foster CWN. However, a substantial
body of literature related to the practice of CWN (although
not always termed as such) may be found across diverse
disciplines and in both scientific and informal scholarly
literature. Disciplines such as ecopsychology and outdoor
education have made particular advances in this applied
Since CWN comprises cognitive, affective, experiential,
and possibly spiritual aspects, an effective suite of practices
should target each of these fields of human consciousness.
It is difficult to partition or classify activities according to
these areas since a given activity may appeal to multiple
faculties, depending on personal and situational contexts.
In this respect, we again follow Saunders’ [19] typology
and summarize CWN activities as they relate to caring/
valuing nature at both the individual and collective level
(see Table 3for a more complete list).
At the individual level, CWN practices are often
encountered as part of (semi-)structured workshops and/or
reflective retreat settings. These events, usually nature-
based, are possibly inspired by deep ecology (including,
e.g., depth psychology, emotional releasing, eco-spiritual-
ity) Eastern-style relaxation and mindfulness (e.g., yoga,
meditation, breath-work), Indigenous worldviews, rites and
traditions (e.g., vision quests, shamanism) and/or any (neo-
paganesque) combination of these [43,54,165]. Semi-
structured CWN practices or spontaneously arising
opportunities (e.g., through unstructured activity) may
form part of wilderness journeys; outdoor adventure
activities; ecotourism; environmental/sustainability educa-
tion and interpretation; nature-guided therapy, spiritual/
cultural/religious gatherings or celebrations and their
inherent ritual/prayer/ceremony; community, seasonal or
environmental festivals (and including creative arts such as
drawing, dance, music, drama, play); environmental
activism; community gardening; and voluntary simplicity/
eco-lifestyle movements [43,165]. Within many of these
contexts, nature is understood as the teacher, healer, or
inspiration, while the outdoor educator, guide, or facilitator
is tasked to enable, cocoon, or help manifest learner’s
insights and experiences [166].
Shaw [166] provides an overview of a typical CWN
process with key practices (see also Table 3). Many begin
with simple ‘‘loosening-up’’ exercises to relax and bring
awareness to the breath and body, followed by further
exploration and awareness of the human senses as part of
directing perceptual focus and attention back to one’s self
and the natural world [34,51,165,167,168]. These
practices may be followed by sitting silently, recording
observations (often creatively or artistically) and reflecting
on the experience [166]. Participants may be encouraged to
interact or commune with elements of nature or wildlife as
part of a search for personal symbolism, messages, and
meaning [166]. Personal rituals or expressions of thanks to
nature may be performed and, finally, participants’ might
be encouraged to share their stories and insights with their
fellow learners [166]. Many of these activities draw
130 Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143
participants out of their comfort zones or engage faculties
of their being (usually the phenomenal aspects of con-
sciousness (Box 1)) which are under-utilized in daily life.
Activities may foster intense personal introspection or
close bonding with peers—that is, connections with self,
nature, people, and/or spirit [115].
CWN may also be (often less intentionally) achieved
through more conventional means. Hands-on involvement
in ecological restoration can be particularly beneficial in
fostering CWN, since it involves an attentiveness to nature
in an active embodied way, engaging body and mind and
absorbing the wisdom inherent in the restoration process
[69,85,88,160]. Similarly, experiential citizen science
may serve as a vehicle for promoting CWN, and increasing
the likelihood people will engage in ERB [49]. The rise of
social media is supporting a proliferation of ‘‘apps’’ which
may enhance eco-literacy by encouraging people to iden-
tify, record, and report their nature sightings. As part of a
balanced ‘‘screen diet’’ [169], nature-focused apps may
serve as an important initial step in turning people’s
attention toward the nature around them. Cultivating con-
ventional naturalist skills such as bird-watching, plant
drawing and identification, ecological mapping (including
sounds), animal tracking and acute, silent observation can
all be highly beneficial activities for finding CWN [34,
170]. These exercises can bring people into closer contact
with wildlife, which has also been shown to help foster
CWN [28,116].
Some of these practices for individuals (or small groups
of individuals) might also fall under the umbrella of ‘‘green
care’’ as outlined by Hine [171]. Green care initiatives
usually consist of a facilitated therapy or intervention (e.g.,
therapeutic horticulture, animal assisted interventions, care
farming, green exercise as a treatment, and eco-, nature-, or
wilderness-therapy) for a particular participant(s) (i.e.,
there may be person-specific needs or outcomes in mind)
At the collective or group level, Pyle [2] addresses
CWN by offering a blueprint for governance through a six-
point ‘‘nature matrix.’’ The nature matrix is primarily
embedded in a Leopoldian and biophilia ethic and, while
an explicit statement on the desired outcomes is lacking,
reference is made to broad-scale, community-based resto-
ration efforts, mass campaigns for promoting ecological
literacy and, a cultural shift beyond capitalism’s obsession
with perpetual growth [2]. Pyle [2] see these basic tenets,
alongside nature-based people’s desirable way of being, as
necessary for a ‘‘radical reconnection.’’ The nature matrix
is a call-to-arms for policy-makers, although few will likely
have the courage, knowledge, or political wherewithal to
initiate such bold changes [2]. Pyle admits that the nature
matrix may be utopian but that it is nevertheless ‘‘a model
for essential, incremental change, a dream whose eventual
adoption may enhance chances for reconnection and for
ecological survival itself’’ [2, p. 206]. Based on the premise
that humans are ‘‘wired’’ for connection and belonging (see
below), it follows that the design of an appropriate social-
cultural fabric should enable a process of CWN to unfold
automatically [103].
This incremental but vital process requires engagement
across all sectors [19]. Intermediary organizations (e.g.,
schools, universities, NGOs, community groups), educa-
tors, mentors, and families will need to play a prominent
role in bridging the individual and group progress toward
CWN [34] (Table 3). This will require stakeholders to find
collaborative ways of overcoming identified challenges for
reconnecting. For example, England’s Natural Childhood
Inquiry revealed that an unreasonable health and safety
culture; traffic dangers; the rise of indoor entertainment;
finding time and space for nature in schools; receding
access to quality green and natural spaces; and socio-eco-
nomic and cultural factors are the key barriers preventing
or limiting childhood CWN [102,172]. It is therefore
necessary that local groups (including schools and higher
educational institutions) are supported to become catalysts
for local action, thus enabling all citizens (and students) to
have meaningful engagement with nature [172].
Practices outlined in this section are neither exhaustive
nor static. For example, Naess [105, p. 140] lists 25 other
ways (i.e., behaviors) that supporters of deep ecology ‘‘can
joyfully adapt their lifestyle to the movement’’ with many
of these orientations clearly aligned with (outcomes of a)
deepening CWN. Therefore, the above section serves to
introduce common themes which might be seen as neces-
sary in fostering authentic CWN. They may help to bal-
ance, mitigate, and make sense of undesirable events,
patterns, and changes in one’s life. Ideally, CWN practices
help persons awaken to a deeper appreciation, care, com-
passion, and empathy with nature—realizations of such
connections are at the essence of true systems thinking
Measuring Success (Evaluative)
As Saunders [19] conceived it, the third research area for
conservation psychology is evaluative (i.e., measuring
success). This is also where the scientific literature seems
to fall short. Given that there is little evidence for imple-
mentation of CWN strategies in practice (in either con-
servation or formal education), it follows that there is little
information on their effectiveness in the instances where
CWN strategies or practices may have been systematically
applied [139]. While valuable evaluative research on the
effect of (semi-)structured experiences in nature exists
(e.g., [87,117,119,157,162,163,168,173178], there
Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143 131
appears to be a paucity of literature which (1) specifically
targets the CWN construct as part of an intervention or
implementation strategy; (2) has clearly defined a priori
indicators on what constitutes ‘‘success’’; (3) has sufficient
evidence as to whether CWN programs are achieving
results [43]; (4) identifies CWN threshold levels for pre-
cipitating desired levels of ERB; or (5) is based on longi-
tudinal analysis. Empirical research and evidence-based
criteria are needed to address these current shortfalls.
Evaluative indicators for CWN may be extracted from
existing quantitative instruments (Table 2). The 21 state-
ments in the NRS offer a range of cognitive, affective, and
experiential traits which provide useful points of reference.
For example, after engaging with CWN activities over
time, do persons: go outdoors more often (even in
unpleasant weather); take more notice of nature around
them; feel more comfortable in wilderness areas; feel more
aware about environmental issues; and give greater con-
sideration to how their actions affect the environment?
Similarly, the INS, which uses overlapping circles to depict
one’s cognitive representation of self in relation to nature,
may provide reliable feedback on how a persons’ percep-
tion of their inclusiveness with nature has changed over
time (e.g., in response to CWN practices). The potential of
existing CWN scales to measure progress in CWN is lar-
gely beyond dispute—many were developed with this goal
in mind. However, for the purposes of effective evaluation
for an individual or groups of individuals, the content
comprising these measures needs to be made explicit, along
with weak areas (i.e., statements registering low scores) in
participant responses so activities can be adapted to
improve the effectiveness of the CWN (intervention)
strategy. Note also that since existing CWN measures are
self-report, persons may be unaware of ways that they have
changed (in favor of CWN) even though such traits may be
evident to others.
Evaluative indicators may need to be more qualitative,
particularly as they relate to education and learning out-
comes. If CWN is recognized as being fluid, holistic, and
personal, then it follows that the means of assessing suc-
cess must be equally so. To this end, Young et al. [31,
p. 258] propose indicators (‘‘natural, vibrant, vital, and
sustainable criteria’’) which while not comprising a strictly
quantitative assessment, instead act as radical beacons for
orienting and assessing successful education outcomes
which serve to inform three core fields of learning: awak-
ening sensory awareness; cultivating knowledge of place;
and restoring the human bond with nature [34]. These all
contribute to fostering a ‘‘naturalist intelligence’’ [cf. 205,
Evaluative indicators for CWN may also be aligned with
the associated well-being benefits described below.
Heightened CWN may be recognized in persons displaying
attributes and traits of personal growth and health and well-
being (e.g., inner happiness, peace-of-mind, presence-of-
being, heightened attention and awareness, love and for-
giveness, aliveness and vitality, curiosity and inquisitive-
ness, physical and mental resilience, generosity and
gratitude, empathy and feelings of belonging, relatedness,
and oneness [32,97,100,101,127,137,153,179,181]).
As indicated in the theoretical conceptualization of
CWN, a level of consistency and commitment is required.
This continuity also implies that an individuals’ CWN is
transferable between contexts even when the context is less
favorable or appealing. This differentiates between persons
exhibiting CWN with those who are more prone to bio-
phobia [182] or inclined to only seek out aesthetically
pleasing nature or have a preference for charismatic species
[183]. Finally, ‘‘continuity’’ also implies that CWN is rel-
atively resilient to external shocks, stressors, or adverse
situations (e.g., natural disasters) over varying temporal
and spatial scales.
Actions and behaviors will need to comprise any eval-
uative indicator set, although CWN may not always be
reflected in an individual’s everyday actions [4,13]. Fun-
damentally, behaviors should move beyond transient
instrumental actions which might be motivated by tangible
(e.g., economic incentives) or egoist (e.g., social status/
image) concerns. It is expected that salient qualities of
CWN would encourage individuals to embrace ‘‘voluntary
simplicity’’ in reducing their ecological footprint (e.g.,
consumption levels) [88]. This lifestyle choice has long
been advocated as a necessary step toward ecological
sustainability and human well-being [184]. Conversely,
fulfilling commitments and incremental actions consistent
with CWN may become operationalized as a regular
behavior (i.e., habit) which, in turn, reinforces the cognitive
and affective associations with CWN and further shapes an
ecological consciousness [11,28,185]). Ultimately, at the
collective level, a community of enlivened appreciative
individuals living with social-ecological sensitivity
and purpose may indicate an emerging culture of
CWN is not a prescribed formula, blueprint, or roadmap.
Neither is it a seamless unidirectional ‘‘onward and
upward’’ path toward utopian being: fluxes (as ebbs and
flows) and cycles are intrinsic to life itself. As a deeply
personal and a uniquely experiential endeavor, CWN is
necessarily nuanced by time, space, and contextual vari-
ables. The process may be characterized by sustained
practice which can result in sudden progressive shifts or,
alternatively, prolonged periods of relapse but which may
nevertheless be valuable as ‘‘regressions in service of
future expansion and integration’’ [66, p. 163]. In all cases,
there is much scope for investigating the reliability,
validity, and applicability of potential indicators as
132 Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143
contextual understandings of CWN and its relevance to
conservation and education evolve.
Benefits of CWN
Numerous studies and reviews illustrate that contact with
natural environments is beneficial as measured by multiple
variables pertaining to physiological, emotional, mental,
social and spiritual health, and well-being [3,27,48,59,
88,102,108,111,113,121,186,187]. In their typology of
the benefits from interaction with nature, Keniger et al.
[59]. illustrate the vast diversity and range of benefits: from
individuals factors such as improved cognitive, cardio-
vascular and immune functioning [3,27] to collective
benefits such as reduced crime, aggression, and antisocial
behavior [3,113]. These effects, especially the therapeutic
and restorative effects of nature on humans [3,27,85,121,
158,171], are often linked back to the biophilia hypothesis
and/or Attention Restoration Theory [27,81,85,102,107,
Researchers find that green outdoor settings reduce
symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD) in children significantly more than activities
conducted in built outdoor or indoor settings [188,189].
Green space settings have been found to positively influ-
ence (inner city) children’s level of creative play [190] and
the naturalness of views of nature from home predict self-
discipline (e.g., children’s performance on tests of con-
centration, impulse inhibition, and delay of gratification)
[191]. In these latter studies, vegetation cover and natu-
ralness of the view could be used as predictors for out-
comes. This may have implications for CWN.
Nature exposure does not necessarily translate to CWN
(Fig. 1); however, various studies show CWN constructs to
be positively correlated to similar variables pertaining to
physical and psychological well-being (e.g., mindfulness,
meaningfulness, self-actualization, happiness, and vitality)
[13,99,107,113,136,159,168,178]. Under certain
conditions, CWN acts as a trigger for spiritual, self-tran-
scendence, and unifying experiences [28,47,87,153,154,
192]. CWN is considered causal in generating psycholog-
ical benefits because of the ‘‘power of the feelings asso-
ciated with belonging to a community or something
‘greater than oneself’’’ [26, p. 129]. In this sense, nature
has a transformative value as it appears that humans
become their highest selves when they ‘‘stretch out’’ of
themselves and appreciatively value others (i.e., non-
humans). [118,193] CWN seems to also offer a ‘‘distinct
happiness benefit’’ in that it remains a unique and inde-
pendent predictor when controlling for other powerful
subjective connections (e.g., social bonds) and predictors
of happiness [113]. Overall, CWN appears to make our
lives happier and more purposeful, fulfilling, and mean-
ingful [4,99].
While these well-being benefits are sufficient motivation
in themselves to encourage individual engagement with
nature, the litmus test for CWN’s relevance to conservation
is the extent to which it can foster ERB, as a prerequisite
for influencing social norms, and inspiring collective action
[19,49]. A number of studies suggest that affective expe-
riences in nature can predict ERB [32,98,121,141,159,
194]. The direct experience of engaging with nature
facilitates emotional bonding and stronger behavioral
consistency toward the object [88,195]. As a positive
emotional experience, CWN can initiate changes in cog-
nitive or perceptual processes and, when embedded in
feelings of relatedness beyond self (i.e., an ‘‘ecological
self’’ which broadens identity formation to include nature
and associated biospheric value concerns [88,196]), CWN
presents a platform for ERB as part of a sense of personal
obligation to bring such feelings into everyday life practice
[12,13,24,88,122]. These affective connections have
been shown to be an independent predictor of intentions to
engage with nature [98,159], including children’s intention
to participate in nature-based activities in the future [101].
While it is possible that ERB also promotes CWN (i.e.,
they are mutually reinforcing) [139], empirical research
demonstrates CWN to be a strong predictor for sustainable
attitudes, concerns, motivations, actions, and lifestyles
even when controlling for other attitude measures which do
not include a sense of connectedness [4,7,13,49,108,
113,160]. For example, a recent study found that CWN
was a stronger motivation for visiting parks and interacting
with green space than simply having the opportunity to do
so [108]. ERB is more likely when a person’s ‘‘heart is in
it’’ [49, p. 299]—and the heart usually engages through
direct sensorial and emotive experience. Wilson (in [19])
advises that we would be wise to listen to the heart—and to
then act with rational intent.
According to the conceptualizations of CWN as outlined
in this review, there appears to be few detriments of CWN
(for Westernized persons) as identified in the literature.
While one may have psychologically and genetically pre-
disposed fears toward certain elements of nature as part of
humanity’s entwined evolutionary history with the natural
world [182,198], it would be erroneous to confuse this
biophobia as a negative aspect of CWN. While one may
still (innately) fear or dislike certain phenomena in nature,
CWN gives context and perspective to biophobic reactions
in accordance with understandings implicit in CWN, for
example, inclusiveness, relatedness, and the associated
respect and reverence held for all life.
Perhaps the greatest scope for adverse effects associated
with CWN is in witnessing the desecration of nature and
experiencing the trauma, grief and despair associated with
Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143 133
that (e.g., when a place of profound childhood significance
is destroyed or when one is forcibly removed from areas to
which one had an emotional and/or spiritual attachment)
[199,200]. However, in reviewing literature on how
afflicted children cope in the face of conflict and disasters,
Chawla [201] finds substantial evidence to support the
buffering, therapeutic, and healing effects of nature and
that memories of a deep connection with nature during
childhood were a ‘‘fund of calm’’ which could be drawn
upon later in life to help (re)discover self and (re)imagine
new futures (e.g., [202205] ). Such benefits are also
concomitant to the adaptive processes (across multiple
levels, e.g., physical, psychological, social-cultural, and
institutional functioning) which are necessary to form and
sustain resilient systems [201].
CWN in Conservation: Possible Avenues
for Integration
Knowing the value of CWN is insufficient in its utility for
conservation—it must be applied in doing conservation [8,
18,206,207]. Francis Bacon (1561–1626) and Neo-Con-
fucian philosopher Wang Yang-Ming (1472–1528) imag-
ined the same when they suggested that ‘‘good knowledge’
is that which combines knowledge with action [208,209].
If one knows they should implement an action, and does
not do so, then their knowledge is incomplete and they do
not truly know: ‘‘Knowing is the beginning of action, and
doing is the completion of knowledge’’ [211, p. 29].
Despite what we know, the action of CWN receives little
attention in the scientific literature and the insights that are
available in fields such as ecopsychology and outdoor
learning rarely find their way into conservation main-
stream. This is partly because conservation biology has
struggled to effectively integrate and prioritize social (e.g.,
psychology) processes for research and practice [49,210
212], in curricula at universities [213] and/or because of
the handicaps imposed by the ‘‘boundaries of our disci-
plinary homes and frameworks’’ [21, p. 137]. Using the
concept of CWN to implement more effective conservation
actions underscores the need for interdisciplinary thinking,
collaboration, and transdisciplinary approaches which, in
bridging science and society, may more effectively inform
conservation practice and education [19,214217].
Conservation psychology was conceived with the aim to
‘create stronger connections between the natural and social
sciences, between research and practice, and between
psychology and the other social sciences’’ [21, p. 137].
This emergent field is envisaged to consist of two inter-
linking and mutually reinforcing research streams aimed at
understanding (1) How humans behave toward nature with
the goal of ERB and (2) How humans care about/value
nature with the aim of creating harmonious relationships
and an environmental ethic [19,193]. In this conceptuali-
zation, ‘‘Personal connections to animals, places, ecosys-
tems etc.’’ is placed as central to the stream of ‘‘caring/
valuing nature’’ and involves research aimed at encourag-
ing individuals to bond with elements of nature through
understanding, for example, experiential and emotional
connections, environmental identity, values, and ethics
[19]. At the group level, this research stream seeks to
establish a rich and compelling human-nature language
which is capable of changing social-cultural norms and
discourses [19]. Clearly, CWN finds a home here. CWN
may help move conservation beyond paradigms which
constrain its effectiveness, in both theory and practice. The
following paragraphs identify five general areas of
(1) CWN may answer a call for more compelling
language in conservation [16,19] Conservation
efforts aimed at fostering ERB have largely focused
on information-rich campaigns which are often
poorly conceived and targeted, given that knowledge
about an issue alone is unlikely to change behavior
[11,29,30,49,132]. Conservation has generally
excelled in articulating ecological crises [210].
While this knowledge and awareness are necessary,
an overemphasis on biodiversity loss (e.g., ‘‘gloom
and doom’’ campaigns which may resemble Chris-
tian narratives of an imminent Apocalypse requiring
humanity to repent their ecological sins [218]) and
other crisis-driven scenarios is failing to improve the
effectiveness of conservation initiatives or motivate
an indifferent public [69,136,219221]. Individuals
may respond to negative messages invoking guilt
and fear but the eventual outcome may be denial,
frustration, and disempowerment [69]. The percep-
tion of ‘‘crisis’’ may even make people more
conservative and change resistant [218]. People
may thus be more motivated to conserve nature
when presented with understandings of how CWN
contributes to health and well-being [113]. Because
the benefits of CWN are available to all persons,
language used in communication can be tailored to
be more inclusive. This may be more effective in
engaging the public and might counter environmen-
talism as being perceived as only a ‘‘special interest’
(2) CWN may build hope and resilience The crisis
addiction mentality pervading sectors of the conser-
vationist community resembles ‘‘post traumatic
embitterment disorder’’—a violation of basic beliefs
resulting in feelings of bitterness, unfairness, and
hopelessness and a conviction that the world, not
134 Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143
them, must change [223,224]. This ‘‘conservation
grief’’ has been facetiously compared with Ku
Ross’ five stages of death and dying [225,226].
Since a desire to protect nature without CWN may
hinder well-being, the benefits of CWN may buffer
the distress accompanying an awareness of environ-
mental crises or serve as a reserve of inspiration to
be drawn upon in times of hardship [113]. As
Thomashow [200] recommends, the combination of
intimate experiences with nature and deep self-
reflection is necessary to the ‘‘wisdom training’’
needed to liberate the anger and despair often
associated with environmental neglect and destruc-
tion. Yet many environmentalists are unwilling to
confront such emotions because they are unaware of
how to do so [200]. In providing such an avenue,
CWN can cultivate more positive feelings for how
we practice conservation and, in bettering ourselves,
ultimately, inspire change in others. There is always
a need to balance hope with realism [227]; however,
alongside the promotion of ‘‘know-how’’ and behav-
ior alternatives, CWN (as part of a placed-based
education) remains critical in ensuring success in
conservation [6,221,228].
(3) CWN may constitute a more enduring and far-
reaching motivation for ERB CWN promotes more
than instrumental actions aimed at fostering ERB.
This is important because it cannot be assumed that
perceived ERB in one area of a person’s life is
driven by motivations which will be transferred to
other lifestyle choices, and thus fail to reproduce
similar ERB outcomes or capture an overall ‘net-
gain.’’ This is particularly relevant in the face of
transient economic incentives or other short-term
benefits. Rather than educators or decision-makers
being forced to choose between instrumental (behav-
ior change) and emancipatory (human development)
strategies [229], promoting a CWN rooted in direct
affective experience is likely to motivate and
empower environmental awareness and ERB across
the board [88,173,197,230]. Given these prospects,
along with the other potentials outlined in this
review, CWN presents itself as more than just
another ‘‘conservation fad’’ [cf. 231] and more of a
moral and ethical sensibility.
(4) CWN may provide an accepted avenue for tackling
‘the big fuzzies.’A 2011 survey of scientists’
opinions revealed a concerning dichotomy: while
understanding human interactions with nature was
ranked as the highest priority for conservation
planning, the role of spiritual, cultural, and utilitarian
values as reasons to conserve biodiversity were
ranked poorly [232]. This is precarious, because it
disconnects science from value-laden practice—a
practice that must be inclusive if it is to be
successful. This is a process of finding out ‘‘who
speaks for nature’’ [233] and acknowledging that
other ways of knowing and relating to nature may be
more appropriate under specific contexts. However,
doing so is likely to invoke ‘‘big fuzzy concepts’’:
that is, issues where values and ethics are difficult to
define, access, and measure, and therefore tends to
be avoided by conservationists [234,235].The risk in
this approach is that it may undermine ‘‘conservation
opportunism’’ [236] since spiritual and cultural
components of CWN may be powerful motivations
for conserving nature in certain contexts [228].
Many writings have investigated the role of religion
and spirituality in supporting the conservation of
bio(cultural) diversity and the role of science and
education therein [125,237242]. Such discussions
broach issues not usually discussed in mainstream
conservation: for example, sacred connections with
land, the spirit of place, the role of ritual (including
religious ceremony) in nourishing earth and our-
selves, and how vicarious childhood experiences
opens paths toward CWN in adulthood [155,165,
202,243,244]. While such topics still sit uneasily at
the fringe of the natural sciences, CWN may provide
the necessary framework and language through
which diverse perceptions, emotions, and experi-
ences of nature may be scientifically legitimized,
accounted for and harnessed for effective conserva-
tion practice.
(5) CWN is intrinsic to evolutionary perspectives of
humans and the natural world The call to ‘‘reconnect
with nature’’ is often grounded in the realization that
human evolution is intimately tied to the natural
environment since, throughout most of history,
humans have subsisted in wild and rural areas by
hunting, gathering, herding and, more recently,
producing with agriculture [59,160]. Such notions
are not new to science and the Origin of Species
[245] inextricably tied humans to nature through
biology and genetics, presenting a new perspective
of an interconnected world [63]. However, Darwin’s
Note that notions of connection in conservation science are already
commonplace, although these usually refer to ‘‘ecological connectiv-
ity’’ [298300] which is concerned with protecting, restoring and
improving ecological processes to build resilience in the face of
external stressors [301]. However, as part of efforts to bridging
disciplinary terminology and seek shared and inclusive understand-
ings, CWN could also be conceived as restoring and improving
physiological and psychological processes to build personal resilience
in response to stressors associated with urban life or being a
conservationist in a time of ecological crisis.
Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143 135
view was rooted in a physical, and usually tangible,
reality and was less forthcoming on the psycholog-
ical ways in which humans have evolved with
nature. In environmental literature, the biophilia
hypothesis presented a significant breakthrough in
this realm by contending that humans are biologi-
cally and psychologically predisposed to affiliate
with the natural world [3,7,57,246,247].
Biophilia describes the connections that humans
instinctively seek with the rest of life as an innate love or
affection [246] or, alternatively, as a learned responsibility
for nature [247]. While these traits may be neither strictly
innate nor acquired, fixed, or universal [248], research
shows that dimensions of human biophilia are also shared
with living non-human primates [249]. Non-human pri-
mates are keenly attuned to their natural habitat, experts at
deriving value from it and ‘‘display a propensity for emo-
tional learning and kinship’’ [44, p. 16]. It is therefore clear
that the evolutionary experience of humans involves nature
and ‘‘we are therefore predisposed to resonate with these
surroundings, consciously or not’’ [26, p. 121].
Finally, psychology research demonstrates peoples’
basic and evolutionary need to ‘‘belong’’ as a valued
member of a community: group identity (e.g., with family,
friends, neighbors, social networks, special interest com-
munities) provides a sense of purpose and facilitates con-
nection to people and place [13,27,160,250,251]. Our
burgeoning engagement with social media may represent
one way through which this connection and belonging is
sought [252]. This thirst for new forms of social connection
is perhaps also a subconscious attempt to fill a psycho-
logical emptiness resulting from a growing physical sepa-
ration from nature [197]. CWN compels us to consider our
evolutionary needs—from inseparable ecological and
social perspectives [253].
Educating for CWN: A Radical but Relevant
Prerequisite for ERB
The rationale for endorsing CWN in (conservation) edu-
cation follows logical argumentation:
(1) Fundamental to conservation biology is conservation
practice [49,254];
(2) Conservation practice understands and positively
influences human behavior [19,49,211];
(3) Behavior is determined by a complex blend of
internal and external factors [11,49,88,132];
(4) Internal factors are driven by motivations within
which environmental values and beliefs are key—
that is, those correlating with specific environmental
attitudes or biospheric and intergenerational con-
cerns [12,32];
(5) Environmental values and biospheric concerns are
associated with the degree to which individuals
perceive and feel themselves as being interconnected
with all life [24,32,146];
(6) Individuals who possess these values and believe
themselves to harbor CWN are more likely to find
motivations for adopting ERB and conservation
action [13,32,49,133];
(7) Promoting and educating for CWN can therefore
foster effective conservation practice [102].
Accepting this logic is to equally accept that CWN is a
core concern of conservation biology, psychology, and
education. It represents a truly interdisciplinary process and
Some may consider that the theory and practice of CWN
resembles a return to pre-scientific animism and an ideal-
ization of our hunter-gatherer roots. This is confrontational
to formal contemporary education systems that have con-
sistently rejected non-Western ways of knowing [255,
256]. Pyle [2, p. 209], however, believes that ‘‘Recon-
necting with nature is not a matter of reversing the fall,
getting back to Eden, or approximating the peaceable
kingdom. These states never occurred.’’ Clearly, a return to
idealized subsistence living is near impossible since we
cannot unlearn all we now know (about, e.g., human
developmental potential), reverse technological advance-
ment, restore ecological integrity or recreate the strong
social bonds which supported old formulas that were more
pertinent when the world was very different to now [88,
Similarly, CWN may seem to reinvent a Romanticism
which, while emphasizing strong personal relationships
with nature, may have instead contributed to a distancing
of human-nature relations [61,63]. While contemporary
views seek to reassert the corporeality and earthliness of
life (rather than the ethereal) [63,259], such associations
remain threatening to belief systems that might view CWN
as an ‘‘ersatz religion’’ [cf. 172]. White [46] pursued a
similar aim decades ago: rather than seeking to eject
Christianity, he sought a viable equivalent to animism
which carried a message of stewardship, humility, and care
for creation [40].Ultimately, this is not a question of
exchanging one way of life for another but instead invites
an opening up to the potentiality which can be harnessed
from established points of reference [258].
In the context of conservation education, it appears that
‘The only reconnection that will be truly significant must also
be radical’’ [2]. ‘‘Radical’’ is relative and therefore ambiguous
but it is evident that humans need to rediscover a ‘‘con-
sciousness of place’’ that recognizes a living interconnected
136 Springer Science Reviews (2014) 2:119–143