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From acorns grow oaks: exploring how childhood exposure to nature influences adult behavior

Broughton, William (2014) From acorns grow oaks: exploring how childhood exposure to nature influences adult behavior. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Employing a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach, this research project investigates how patrons of a local botanical garden establish a connectedness to nature. Collaborating with the Director of Science Education and Research at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the study examined the role of childhood experiences with plants and nature in the formation of adult participation in nature-based activities using an online anonymous survey. In addition, it examined if nature exposure is associated with perceiving trees and plants as important to physical and psychological health. Participants answered questions about their experiences with plants and nature as a child and as an adult. A link to the survey was sent out via an email from Phipps’ Marketing Department to the roughly 11,000 Phipps members. In addition, a link to the survey was posted to Phipps’ Facebook and Twitter page. A total of 270 individuals completed the exploratory survey.
Analyses of the data show several statistically significant associations between the nature-based activities Phipps patrons report taking part in before the age of 11 and nature-based activities in which they currently participate. Survey respondents who indicated that they often spent time caring for indoor plants and engaging in active garden experiences in childhood where more likely to report greater levels of interactions with nature as an adult. This association is possibly explained by the fact that active gardening experiences are much more hands-on and create a connection that lasts over the course of an individuals life. Survey data also indicates that for Phipps’ patrons, exposure to nature-based activities before the age of 11 has little influence on perceived physical and psychological health benefits from contact with nature. Respondents who often spend time currently in outdoor places with trees and plants are more likely to perceive health benefits from contact with nature.
Contact with nature has great potential as a public health intervention to address physical and psychological health issues at the individual and community level. In addition, research in this area is critical to support funding for environmental education programs at school and botanicals gardens across the country. At the policy level, increasing public awareness of health benefits associated with nature-based activities is also critical to better informing urban development and conservation efforts. Policymakers need to view access to green space and natural areas as a social justice issue.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Thesis AdvisorBurke, Jessica Gjgburke@pitt.eduJGBURKE
Committee MemberTrauth, Jeanette M.trauth@pitt.eduTRAUTH
Committee MemberMiller, Elizabethelizabeth.miller@chp.eduELM114
Committee MemberSteinwald,
Date: 27 June 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 1 April 2014
Approval Date: 27 June 2014
Submission Date: 7 April 2014
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 55
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Public Health > Behavioral and Community Health Sciences
Degree: MPH - Master of Public Health
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Public health, Contact with nature, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, CBPR, Community Health, gardening,
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2014 22:14
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2016 14:41


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