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Psychology Subdisciplines:

History of Psychology
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Individual Differences
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Environmental Psychology
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Lecture/Discussion Topics Class Activities Multimedia Resources Suggested Readings for Students Suggested Readings for Students LECTURE/DISCUSSION TOPICS

Is Nature-Connectedness A Trait?

"Biophilia" is a term used to describe humans' affinity for nonhuman nature, a love of nature, an attraction to nature, and a feeling of connection to nature (Kellert, 1997; Wilson, 1984). Wilson theorizes that biophilia stems directly from our ancestral past, a past in which humans evolved as part of the natural landscape, not separated from it; therefore, it should be universal. In our experience, however, when students are introduced to the concept, they tend to immediately posit individual differences in the biophilic orientation. Some students reject the idea that nature-connectedness is universal, while others will allow for universality only if there is the possibility of variability in degree across individuals. Mayer and Frantz (2004) describe five studies assessing the validity and reliability of their Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS), an individual-difference measure of "experiential oneness with the natural world" (p. 504). The 14-item scale includes items such as " I think of the natural world as a community to which I belong," " Like a tree can be part of a forest, I feel embedded within the broader natural world," and " My personal welfare is independent of the welfare of the natural world." For a broader discussion of individual differences in "environmental identity" and theoretical perspectives on factors affecting environmental identity, see Clayton and Opotow (2003a). Chapter 3 of this edited volume presents Clayton's 24-item Environmental Identity Scale (EIS) which includes some items tapping into nature-connectedness and the personal value associated with it (e.g., "I think of myself as part of nature, not separate from it" and "Being a part of the ecosystem is an important part of who I am") as well as items about environmental attitudes (e.g., "My own interests usually seem to coincide with the position advocated by environmentalists") and environmental behaviors (e.g., "I spend a lot of time in natural settings" and "If I had enough time or money, I would certainly devote some of it to working for environmental causes").

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Howard Gardner's Naturalist Intelligence

In his book Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner (1983) proposes that psychologists' conceptualization of "intelligence" is too narrowly defined. He suggests that individuals differ not only in general IQ, but in seven intelligence dimensions: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Gardner uses eight criteria to determine whether an ability qualifies as an "intelligence"; these criteria include that the ability have associated with it an core set of operations, a distinctive developmental history, a plausible evolutionary history, and support from psychological research. Since he presented his original list of seven, Gardner and others have discussed whether there may be other intelligences that should be included in the list. Recently, Gardner (1999) suggests that there is sufficient research evidence to merit inclusion of an an eighth intelligence, which he calls "naturalist intelligence." In an interview with Durie (1997), Gardner explained,

The core of the naturalist intelligence is the human ability to recognize plants, animals, and other parts of the natural environment, like clouds or rocks. All of us can do this; some kids (experts on dinosaurs) and many adults (hunters, botanists, anatomists) excel at this pursuit. While the ability doubtless evolved to deal with natural kinds of elements, I believe that it has been hijacked to deal with the world of man-made objects. We are good at distinguishing among cars, sneakers, and jewelry, for example, because our ancestors needed to be able to recognize carnivorous animals, poisonous snakes, and flavorful mushrooms.

For information/discussion on Gardner's naturalist intelligence, see article by Campbell (1997) on the New Horizons for Learning website.

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Sex-Related Differences In Environmental Attitudes And Behaviors

Research on sex-related differences in environmental attitudes and behaviors suggests that women tend to have stronger proenvironmental attitudes and, especially, display more proenvironmental behavior (Zelezny, Chua, & Aldrich, 2000). Several individual studies have reported higher environmental advocacy among girls and women. One particularly interesting example is the paradox reported by Zinn and Pierce (2002). These researchers surveyed nearly 2500 participants in Colorado regarding their attitudes about mountain lions. They found that women were more fearful than men of mountain lions but more in favor than men of protecting mountain lions. As with any sex-related difference, the causes of the observed differences in environmental attitudes and behaviors may be due to socialization, due to biology, or due to an interaction between the two. Zelezny et al. (2000) describe several ways gendered socialization may contribute to the difference: females are socialized to have a stronger "ethic of care," females are socialized to have more of an "other" orientation, and females may have more of an "ecocentric" orientation (as opposed to an anthropocentric one)-- as an extension of their other orientation. In contrast to the socialization explanations, Wilson, Daly, Gordon, and Pratt (1996) suggest that men's lower concern for the environment may stem from an evolved general tendency for males to take risks and discount the future in favor of short-term gains.

Recently, Hunter, Hatch, and Johnson (2004) reported on a survey of men and women in 22 nations which revealed that women across cultures engage in more proenvironmental behaviors than men do, especially private behaviors such as household recycling (versus public behaviors such as social protests).

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The Animal-Lover Personality?

Ecological sustainability is related to attitudes toward animal welfare in several ways. Zoos cultivate appreciation for animals in an effort to encourage support for wildlife conservation. Appeals to empathy for animals are used to educate people about the negative aspects of factory farming, a practice that has a substantial impact on the environment in the forms of pollution and resource consumption. Charismatic megafauna, such as bears and dolphins, are used in many a fundraising appeal from wilderness preservation groups. Some researchers have explored the possibility that there may be personality differences between those who feel an affinity for animals and those who do not. For example, Broida, Tingley, Kimball, and Miele (1993) administered the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory and a measure of attitudes toward animal research to a sample of more than one thousand college students. They found that individuals classed as Intuitive and Feeling types tended to be more opposed to animal experimentation (and more ecologically concerned) than other types. Mathews and Herzog (1997) administered an animal attitudes scale and The Sixteen Personality Factor Inventory to a sample of college students and found that two personality factors-- sensitivity and imaginativeness-- were significantly positively correlated with attitudes toward animals. Furnham, McManus, and Scott (2004) measured empathy, the Big Five personality traits, and attitudes toward animal experimentation in more than 800 college students. They found that Agreeableness, Openness, and Empathy were all significant negative predictors of attitudes toward animal experimentation. Liking for animals and beliefs that animals have feelings were also positively related to Openness. Extraversion was positively associated with attitudes toward use of animals in research. Bagley and Gonsman (2005) administered a pet attachment scale and the Keirsey Four Types Sorter to a sample of more than 150 participants and found that individuals with Idealist type personalities reported significantly higher attachment to their pets than did Rationalists and Artisans (but not Guardians). Austin, Deary, Edwards-Jones, & Arey (2005) compared how personality and attitudes toward farm animals correlated in farmers and agriculture students. Both farmers and students who scored high in Agreeableness and Conscientiousness tended to score high on animal welfare; in students, there was also a positive correlation with Openness.

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The Materialistic Values Orientation

Overconsumption is a significant contributing factor in the current environmental crisis. Humans in the developed world consume and possess far more material goods than are required to meet basic needs. The production of these goods has negative implications for social, economic, and environmental sustainability. The cultural context encourages material consumption among all of us, but there are differences in the extent to which individuals are oriented toward material aquisition. Belk (1985) and Richins and Dawson (1992) represent early attempts to operationalize individual differences in materialistic values. While the Richins and Dawson measure focuses on a general materialistic values orientation, the Belk scale (later revised in Ger & Belk, 1996) measures specific traits associated with materialism (possessiveness, nongenerosity, and envy). In a study of the impact of social circumstances on materialism, Ahuvia and Wong (2002) found that an economically deprived upbringing was a significant predictor of materialistic personality traits in a sample of U.S. college students. In a cross-cultural study of nearly 1,000 university students from six countries, Schultz, et al. (2005) found that valuing power and achievement was associated with viewing humans as consumers of nature-- rather than as part of nature. More recently, Hirsh & Dolderman (2007) measured the Big Five personality traits in college students and found that while Agreeableness was a significant positive predictor of pro-environmental attitudes and sense of connection to nature, it was a significant negative predictor of a materialistic values orientation.

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Right-Wing Authoritarianism And Green Justice

The current political climate in the United States positions environmental concern on the liberal left and concern with individual land use rights and corporate profits on the conservative right. Although some anti-environmental efforts tend to be more libertarian than authoritarian in tone (e.g., the Wise Use movement; see Helvarg, 2004), some researchers have tested for an association between right-wing authoritarianism and anti-environmental attitudes. Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), as conceptualized and operationalized by Robert Altemeyer (1988), consists of three facets: generalized hostility toward outgroups, high respect for authority, and conventionalism. Peterson, Doty, and Winter (1993) found that among undergraduates, RWA was associated with hostility toward environmentalists. Schultz and Stone (1994) conducted two studies, one in the field with citizens ranging from their twenties to their nineties, and one in the lab with college students. In both studies the researchers found a significant and strong (> -.5) negative correlation between RWA and environmental concern (measured in the lab study with Dunlap & VanLiere's original New Environmental Paradigm scale). Individuals high in RWA tend to have traditional notions about justice, tend to strongly support societal hierarchies, and tend to favor harshly punitive penalties for lawbreakers. A few studies have explored possible connections between these characteristics and environmental issues. For example, Feather (2002) presented adult participants with a scenario of either a senator or citizen, who supported or opposed uranium mining in the vicinity of an Australian national park and defied a police order to defend the position. Individuals low on authoritarianism had less favorable attitudes toward penalties for the citizen offender. (Overall, participants were more lenient toward offenders whose position on the issue matched their own.) Allen, Wilson, Ng, and Dunne (2000) found that meat eaters tended to endorse social hierarchies more than vegetarians or vegans did. A recent study in East Germany found that individuals with a more environmentalist worldview tended to have an egalitarian and broad justice outlook, while right-wing extremists tended to be anti-egalitarian, were motivated by self interest, and displayed a narrower scope of justice (Sabbagh, 2005). Clayton and Opotow (2003b) suggest that social identity is a strong factor in determining an individual's approach to justice, and they use environmental issues to illustrate the intersection between identity and justice. For more on individual justice orientation and environmental issues, see Clayton (1998), Clayton and Opotow (1994), Kals and Russell (2001), and Montanda and Kals (2000) .

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Individual Differences & Environmental Attitudes & Behaviors

The topics above offer several examples of individual difference variables that may be associated with environmental attitudes and behaviors. Have students select one of those, or hypothesize a connection of their own, and conduct an original data collection among their peers. Advanced students may want to go beyond a simple correlational analysis to a regression model including more than one individual difference variable.

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Film: Shop 'Til You Drop: The Crisis of Consumerism

This film examines the negative aspects of our society’s pursuit of happiness through consumerism, exposing the erosion of natural resources and basic human values that stem from our buying habits. Experts from a variety of fields weigh in on this subject and provide insight into its far reaching consequences and causes. See a description of the film here. This film has both 90- and 50-minute versions.

Film: Affluenza

This hour-long film is a vivid accompaniment to a discussion of materialistic values and consumption behaviors. The film describes "affluenza" as a society-wide affliction, but students can think critically about factors associated with individual differences in the consumptive tendency. Click here for a description of the film on the Bullfrog Films website.

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Suggested Readings For Students

Clayton, S. (2003). Environmental identity: A conceptual and an operational definition. In S. Clayton & S. Opotow (Eds.), Identity and the natural environment (pp. 45-65). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mayer, F. S., & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 503-515.

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References Cited In This Section

Ahuvia, A., & Wong, N. Y. (2002). Personality and values based materialism: Their relationship and origins. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 12, 389-402.

Allen, M. W., Wilson, M., Ng, S. H., & Dunne, M. (2000). Values and beliefs of vegetarians and omnivores. Journal of Social Psychology, 140, 405-422.

Altemeyer, B. (1988). Enemies of freedom: Understanding right-wing authoritarianism. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Austin, E. J., Deary, I. J., Edwards-Jones, G., & Arey, D. (2005). Attitudes to farm animal welfare: Factor structure and personality correlates in farmers and agriculture students. Journal of Individual Differences, 26, 107-120.

Bagley, D. K., & Gonsman, V. L. (2005). Pet attachment and personality type. Anthrozoos, 18, 28-42.

Belk, R. W. (1985). Materialism: Trait aspects of living in the material world. Journal of Consumer Research, 12, 265-280.

Broida, J., Tingley, L., Kimball, R., & Miele, J. (1993). Personality differences between pro- and anti-vivisectionists. Society and Animals, 1, 129-144.

Campbell, B. (1997). The naturalist intelligence. New Horizons for Learning. Retrieved March 15, 2006 at

Clayton, S. (1998). Preference for macrojustice versus microjustice in environmental decisions. Environment and Behavior, 30, 162-183.

Clayton, S., & Opotow, S. (Eds.) (1994). Green justice: Conceptions of fairness and the natural world. Journal of Social Issues, 50.

Clayton, S., & Opotow, S. (2003a, Eds.). Identity and the natural environmentCambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Clayton, S., & Opotow, S. (2003b). Justice and identity: Changing perspectives on what is fair. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 298-310.

Dunlap, R. E., & Van Liere, K. D. (1978). The " new environmental paradigm": A proposed measuring instrument and preliminary results. Journal of Environmental Education, 9, 10-19.

Durie, R. (1997). An interview with Howard Gardner. New Horizons for Learning. Zephyr Press. Retrieved Dec. 15, 2005 from

Feather, N. T. (2002). Reactions to supporters and opponents of uranium mining in relation to status, attitude similarity, and right-wing authoritarianism. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32, 1464-1487.

Furnham, A., McManus, C., & Scott, D. (2004). Personality, empathy, and attitudes to animal welfare. Anthrozoos, 16, 135-146.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century, New York: Basic Books.

Ger, G., & Belk, R. W. (1996). Cross-cultural differences in materialism. Journal of Economic Psychology, 17, 55-77.

Helvarg, D. (2004). The war against the greens: The wise use movement, the new right, and the browning of American (Rev. ed.). Boulder, CO: Johnson Books.

Hirsh, J. B., & Dolderman, A. (2007). Personality predictors of consumerism and environmentalism: A preliminary study. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 1583-1593.

Hunter, L. M., Hatch, A., Johnson, A. (2004). Cross-national gender variation in environmental behaviors. Social Science Quarterly, 85, 677-694.

Kals, E., & Russell, Y. (2001). Individual conceptions of justice and their potential for explaining pro-environmental decision making. Social Justice Research, 14, 367-385.

Kellert, S. R. (1997). Kinship to mastery: Biophilia in human evolution and development. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Mathews, S., & Herzog, H.A. (1997). Personality and attitudes toward the treatment of animals. Society and Animals, 5, 169-175.

Mayer, F. S. & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 503-515.

Montada, L., & Kals, E. (2000). Political implications of psychological research on ecological justice and pro-environmental behavior. International Journal of Psychology, 35, 168-176.

Peterson, B. E., Doty, R. M. & Winter, D. G. (1993). Authoritarianism and attitudes toward contemporary social issues. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19, 174-184.

Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S. (1992). A consumer values orientation for materialism and its measurement: Scale development and validation. Journal of Consumer Research, 19, 303-316.

Sabbagh, C. (2005). Environmentalism, right-wing extremism, and social justice beliefs among German adolescents. International Journal of Psychology, 40, 118-131.

Schultz, P. W., Gouveia, V. V., Cameron, L. D., Tankha, G., Schmuck, P., & Franek, M. (2005). Values and their relationship to environmental concern and conservation behavior. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 36, 457-475.

Schultz, P. W. & Stone, W. F. (1994). Authoritarianism and attitudes toward the environment. Environment and Behavior, 26, 25-37.

Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wilson, M., Daly, M., Gordon, S., & Pratt, A. (1996). Sex differences in valuations of the environment. Population and Environment, 18, 143-157.

Zelezny, L. C., Chua, P. P., & Aldrich, C. (2000). Elaborating on gender differences in environmentalism. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 443-457.

Zinn, H. C., & Pierce, C. L. (2002). Values, gender, and concern about potentially dangerous wildlife. Environment and Behavior, 34(2) , 239-256.

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