Measuring Environmental Attitudes
The New Environmental Paradigm
Lisa Pelstring 3/25/97 This web site provides an overview of the concept of environmental attitude focusing primarily on one well-known measure of environmental attitude, as well as hyperlinks to related sites the viewer may find interesting.
What is Environmental Attitude Importance of Measuring Environmental Attitudes The New Environmental Paradigm Other Environmental Attitudes Measures Environmental Attitude-Related Web Sites References Return to Trochim Home Page
What is Environmental Attitude
What is Attitude? is perhaps the first question to ask. Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) define attitude as "a learned predisposition to respond in a consistently favorable or unfavorable manner with respect to a given object" (p.6). The researchers break the definition into three components: attitude is learned; it predisposes action; and such action or behavior is generally consistent. Attitude is evaluative in nature--evaluative toward, for instance, pollution or wildlife--and such evaluations are based on beliefs. With the above elements in mind, "environmental" attitude can then be defined as "a learned predisposition to respond consistently favorable or unfavorable manner with respect" to the environment. As this web site will demonstrate, there are many scales available that attempt to measure many aspects of people's attitudes toward the environment--attitudes toward wildlife, pollution, habitat are just several examples. To view an example of an environmental attitude scale click here.
Importance of Understanding Environmental Attitudes
Understanding and measuring environmental attitudes has become increasingly important as the number of environmental conflicts have increased throughout the Unites States and the world. Paralleling an increase in environmental conflicts is the growing trend toward greater public involvement in how these conflicts are handled. In the past few decades, government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector have responded as initially embryonic communication and education efforts have evolved into programs at the local, state, and federal levels. Communication programs in government, for example, exist in such diverse areas as federal and state wildlife management agencies, state cooperative extension services (Peyton and Decker 1987), state and federal hazardous waste agencies, and local health agencies. These educational and outreach programs attempt to involve the public in decisionmaking as well as influence perceptions and behaviors toward issues such as wildlife resource management (Peyton and Decker 1987). Even with communication programs in place, environmental conflicts among stakeholders are inevitable (Fazio 1987). However, there are numerous reasons for many of these conflicts--poor understanding of stakeholder concerns and attitudes is a prime example. Communication planners working in all sectors--private, nongovernmental, and government--often design education and outreach programs without first attempting to understand audience attitudes. Without better understanding of such attitudes, many of these communication programs "miss their mark"--failing to garner audience attention because audience values and attitudes were ignored. If communication programs are to attain their objectives--whether these objectives be persuasive or educational in nature--understanding target audience attitudes is critical. Many conflicts over environmental and natural resource management issues are impossible to avoid. But knowing more about environmental attitudes may at the very least help guide communication and education efforts and hopefully lead to more thoughtful, informed, and effective discussion.
The New Environmenal Paradigm
Dunlap and Van Liere (1978) were the original researchers to posit that a new worldview was emerging--one that differed dramatically from the Dominant Social Paradigm (the public's belief in progress and development, science and technology, a laissez-faire economy, etc). Calling it the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP), the authors assert that this emerging outlook comprised such concepts as limits to growth, steady-state
economy, and natural resource preservation. Dunlap and Van Liere developed an instrument to measure public acceptance of the NEP that has subsequently been tested by other researchers and is till being used today. The original testing instrument comprised 12 items listed below:
We are approaching the limit of the number of people the earth can support. The balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset. Humans have the right to modify the natural environment. Humankind was created to rule over the rest of nature. When humans interfere with nature it often produces disastrous consequences. Plants and animals exist primarily to be used by humans. To maintain a healthy economy we will have to develop a "steady state" economy where industrial growth is controlled. Humans must live in harmony with nature in order to survive. The earth is like a spaceship with only limited room and resources. Humans need not adapt to the natural environment because they can remake it to suit their needs. There are limits to growth beyond which our industrialized society cannot expand. Mankind is severely abusing the environment.
Problems with the NEP
One of the more significant issues researchers have raised concerning the NEP scale is whether it is unidimensional or multidimensional. In other words, is the concept of environmental attitude really only one concept, or does it comprise several concepts or dimensions. Albrecht et al. (1982) conducted a replicative study to assess the NEP scale's reliability, validity, and unidimensionality. The authors surveyed two groups--a farm sample and an urban sample--and found that the NEP scale had three dimensions (unlike Dunlap and Van Liere who found the scale to be unidimensional). Factor analysis showed that these dimensions included: the balance of nature; limits to growth; and man over nature. Geller and Lasley (1985) also tested the dimensionality of the 12-item NEP scale using samples from the Van Liere study and from the 1982 Albrecht study. While Dunlap
found the original 12- item scale to be unidimensional and Albrecht found it to consist of three factors, Geller and Lasley were unable to confirm either researchers configuration using confirmatory factor analysis. Only by reducing the scale to nine items were Geller and Lasley able to "cautiously accept" Albrecht's finding of three factors: balance of nature, limits to growth, and man over nature. Researchers Scott and Willits (1994) conducted a 1990 statewide survey examining Pennsylvania residents' opinions about the NEP and pro-environment behaviors. Confirming past research results, they found that while most respondents expressed support for the NEP, most did not participate in pro-environment behaviors--in other words, environmental attitudes were not predictors of pro-environmental behavior. But more importantly, they too raised questions over the NEP scale's possible unidimensionality. Scott and Willits found only two underlying dimensions: a humanswith-nature factor and a balance of nature/limits to growth factor. In several National Park Service studies, Noe and Snow (1990) applied the NEP scale in surveys of visitors to five Southwestern parks. The authors hypothesized that park visitors would support a more ecological view of man and nature, and that the scale items would show consistency and unidimensionality. Results indicated that the scale was multidimensional with only two factors-- balance of nature and man over nature-and that some items used in the original NEP scale could be dropped. Even in this preliminary review, it is apparent that the NEP scale is not unidimensional. Gray (1985) questions "whether any measure of environmental paradigms can be unidimensional" and asserts that "beliefs in such a complex domain as ecology are not likely to be simple...but complex and multidimensional."
Other Environmental Attitude Measures
While I found the NEP cited most often in the literature, I did also find other measures that looked at more general environmental attitudes as well as specific environmental issues--such as wildlife-- and specific populations--such as children. About the same time period that Dunlap and Van Liere were developing the NEP, Weigel and Weigel (1978) produced the Environmental Concern Scale. This scale is similar to the NEP in that it examines more attitudes toward more general environmental/ecological issues. The 16-item scale was used in four separate studies conducted by the researchers with the goal of predicting environmental behavior. This measure includes such items as "[t]he currently active anti-pollution organizations are really more interested in disrupting society that they are in fighting pollution" and "[t]he federal government will have to introduce harsh measures to halt pollution since few people will regulate themselves." Click here for an example of one study using the Environmental Concern Scale.
In the early 1970s, Maloney and Ward (1973) developed the Ecology Scale which measured attitudes as well as knowledge, emotions, and behavior. Their scale comprised four subscales: the Verbal Commitment Subscale, the Actual Commitment Subscale, the Affect Subscale, and the Knowledge Subscale. Each of these subscales came to a total of 130 items that were tested on environmental group members, college students, and residents of Los Angeles. Results from this study indicate that most people (not surprisingly) scored higher in terms of verbal commitment and affect, and lower in actual commitment and knowledge. Leeming et al. (1995) used a modification of Maloney and Ward's scale to produce the Children's Environmental Attitude and Knowledge Scale (CHEAKS). The items on CHEAKS were very different but the overall structure of the scale was similar. Leeming et al. broke the scale into four areas--Verbal Commitment, Actual Commitment, Affect, and Knowledge subscales. The measure was tested on a total of 2,642 children. Environmental Attitude-Related Web Sites The University of Michigan has an Environmental Education and Communication Resources page. It contains 2500 items that includes curricula, monographs, reports, case studies, periodicals, and newsletters. By using the Search Form and typing "environmental attitudes" in the keywords box, you will receive a list of article abstracts and other references relating to this topic. One report, Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors of American Youth, is provided in full text. One report that references an environmental attitude scale first developed by Weigel and Wiegel (1978) is available online. A Study of Environmental Attitudes and Concepts of Environment and Environmental Education of Geography Student Teachers provides scale items and study results. The University of Wisconsin web site provides a Data and Program Library Service. Again, doing a search with "environmental attitudes" as keywords will connect you with a 1996 report, International Social Survey Program: Environment, focusing on international environmental perceptions. The report includes survey items, codebook, and results. Cornell University's Human Dimensions Research Unit within the Natural Resources Department also provides an index of publications, many of which are related to attitudes toward specific environmental issues, such as wildlife or natural resources. The Human Dimensions of Wildlife Journal web site provides a listing of the Table of Contents for each issue. After scrolling through several issues, I found several articles relating to wildlife and environmental attitudes.
The State Education and Environmental Roundtable web site provides a list of studies that measure environmental attitudes and knowledge. It unfortunately does not provide full texts of these studies online. The University of Toronto has a research database called the Environmental Grey Literature Search. I typed in environmental attitude and received a list of seven report. While the reports were not online, title, author, and call number were provided for each report.
Albrecht, Don; Bultena, Gordon; Hoiberg, Eric; Nowak, Peter. The New Environmental Paradigm Scale, Journal of Environmental Education, 13(3): 39-43, Spring 1982. Atkin, CK. Mass media information campaign effectiveness, in Rice RE, Paisley, WJ (eds): Public Communication Campaigns. Beverly Hills, Sage Publications, 1981. Cushman, Donald P., and McPhee, Robert D. Message-Attitude-Behavior Relationship. New York, Academic Press, 1980. Fishbein, Martin, and Ajzen, Icek. Belief, Attitude, Intention, and Behavior: An Introduction to Theory and Research. Addison-Wesley Publishing, Reading, MA, 1975. Geller, Jack M. and Lasley, Paul. The New Environmental Paradigm Scale: A Reexamination, Journal of Environmental Education, 17(3):9-12, Fall 1985. Leeming, Frank C; Dwyer, William O., and Bracken, Bruce A. Children's Environmental Attitude and Knowledge Scale: Construction and Validation. Environmental Education, vol. 26, no. 3:22- 31 1995. Maloney, Michael, P. and Ward, Michael P. Ecology: Let's Hear from the People. American Psychologist, 583-586, July 1973. Noe, Francis, P. and Snow, Rob. The New Environmental Paradigm and Further Scale Analysis, Journal of Environmental Education. 21(4):20-26, 1990. Weigel, Russell, and Weigel, Joan. Environmental Concern: The Development of a Measure. Environment and Behavior, !0(1):3-15 1978. Copyright © 1997 firstname.lastname@example.org