Early-Life Outdoor Experiences and an Individual's Environmental Attitudes

Ewert, Alan

Ewert, A., Place, G., & Sibthorp, J. (2005). Early-Life Outdoor Experiences and an Individual's Environmental Attitudes. Leisure Sciences, 27: 225-239.


This study investigated the effects of early-life experiences on an individual's environmental beliefs. Data from a survey of 533 university undergraduate students from 20 areas of academic study were analyzed using sequential regression to determine the degree to which current environmental beliefs could be explained by early childhood experiences. Results showed that four of the seven independent variables (appreciative outdoor activities, consumptive outdoor activities, media exposure, and witnessing negative environmental events) explained 14% of the variance in the eco-centric/anthropocentric beliefs. Three of the independent variables (early-life participation in mechanized outdoor activities, education, and involvement with organizations) were not significant predictors of eco-centric/anthropocentric beliefs. Implications for research and practice were discussed.

The review of literature in this article is substantial. For instance, the authors offer the following synthesis which could serve as a starting point for readers interested in becoming familiar with the key body of research on the topic of the formation of environmental values:

While terms may vary, five variables appear to comprise most of the literature regarding early-life outdoor experiences. The most important of these variables appear to be direct outdoor experiences alone, with family, or with friends (Bixler, 1997; Bixler et al., 2002; Corcoran, 1999; Palmer, 1993; Peterson & Hungerford, 1981; Sward, 1999; Tanner, 1980; van Liere & Noe, 1981). Other variables also seemed to play a role in the development of environmental attitudes, such as formal education (Palmer, 1993; Tanner, 1980), the media (Corcoran, 1999), witnessing negative environmental events such as the destruction of a natural area through development (Sward, 1999; Tanner, 1980), and involvement with organizations that provide outdoor experiences (Palmer, 1993; Peterson & Hungerford, 1981).

In short, the findings of this study are consistent with and extend previous research on the formation of environmental values. For instance, the authors note:

This study adds support to the idea that early childhood outdoor experiences (many of which are often recreational or done during leisure time) are related to environmental views. More specifically, this study suggests that participation in early-life appreciative outdoor activities, participation in earlylife consumptive outdoor activities, exposure to media events focusing on environmental issues and witnessing negative environmental events are related to adults' current beliefs concerning the environment.



Pedagogical Area
  • place-based education, environment as integrating context (EIC)
Subject Area
  • physical education, outdoor recreation
Delivery Area
  • community education
Age Area
  • early childhood (2-5 years old)