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Generation Wild: The role of children’s experiences of nature in nature connectedness, wellbeing, and environmental values and behaviour

   Cardiff School of Psychology

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  Prof M Gattis, Prof W Poortinga, Dr Kersty Hobson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Numerous studies have documented positive relations between experiences of nature and human physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. For example, spending time in nature increases attention and cognitive capacity compared to spending time in urban or indoor environments (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008; Stevenson, Schilhab, & Bentsen, 2018). Spending time in nature is also associated with numerous positive outcomes for children, including social and emotional wellbeing (Chawla, 2015; Mygind et al., 2021). Children are also more communicative and responsive when outdoors in nature compared to when indoors (Cameron-Faulkner, Macdonald, Serratrice, Melville, & Gattis, 2017; Cameron-Faulkner, Melville, & Gattis, 2018). Current evidence thus indicates that spending time in nature is good for humans at all life stages.

 Spending time in nature may lead to positive outcomes not only for humans, but also for the environment, as nature experience is positively related to environmentally responsible behaviour (e.g., Collado, Staats, & Corraliza, 2013; Duerden & Witt, 2010; Otto & Pensini, 2017). For example, in one study of children’s participation in nature-based environmental education, the frequency with which children visited environmental education centres was positively related to environmentally responsible behaviour (Otto & Pensini, 2017). Furthermore, the positive relation between experience and behaviour was mediated by the extent to which children reported feeling connected to nature, consistent with the results of numerous studies reporting a positive relation between feeling connected to nature and environmentally responsible behaviour (Mackay & Schmitt, 2019; Tam, 2013; Whitburn, Linklater, & Abrahamse, 2020). Importantly, however, the majority of studies investigating relations between experience, connectedness, and behaviour toward nature have been correlational rather than experimental. Evidence from experiments and interventions is needed to evaluate whether the links between nature experience and environmentally responsible behaviour via feeling connected to nature are causal or simply correlational.

This PhD project is a collaboration between Cardiff University and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). The overarching aim of the project is to investigate how engagement in nature-based interventions (‘Generation Wild’) can enhance children’s wellbeing as well as their care and concern for the natural world. The project will use a mixed-methods intervention design, combining quantitative and qualitative methods, that will allow causal inferences about whether and how children’s nature experiences impact their wellbeing and their environmental values and behaviour via their feelings of connection to nature. The research is part of a new WWT initiative that will engage 45,000 children with nature through visits to WWT wetland centres and activities in the local community. WWT staff will deliver the interventions and provide research expertise on understanding the links between people and wetlands.

The PhD student will be supervised by Professor Merideth Gattis (School of Psychology, Cardiff University) together with Professor Wouter Poortinga (School of Psychology, Cardiff University), Dr Kersty Hobson (Geography and Planning, Cardiff University), Dr Julia Newth (WWT), and Dr Jonathan Reeves (WWT). The PhD student will contribute to the selection and implementation of outcome measures, and will be responsible for management, analysis, and interpretation of the evaluation data. There will also be opportunities to contribute to the long-term impact of the research, through, for example, engaging policy makers with research findings and recommendations.

Applicants should have some experience of and an interest in conducting mixed methods research in psychology or a related field of the social sciences. Research experience and interest in environmental education, environmental social sciences/geography, environmental psychology, or developmental psychology are highly desirable. The studentship offers an exciting and challenging opportunity for those who are interested in further developing their skills and experience in designing and conducting impactful research within a vibrant and interdisciplinary academic community.

Funding Notes

This studentship is open to Home, EU or international students. The award offered will cover Home fees and maintenance stipend. International/EU candidates are welcomed but may need to self-fund the difference between Home and International fees.

However, there are a limited number of studentships available for international/EU applicants that can cover full or partial fees


Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19, 1207-1212.
Cameron-Faulkner, T., Melville, J. & Gattis, M. (2018). Responding to nature: Natural environments improve human communication. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 59, 9-15.
Cameron-Faulkner, T., Macdonald, R., Serratrice, L., Melville, J. & Gattis, M. (2017). Plant yourself where language blooms: Direct exposure to nature changes how parents and children talk about nature. Children, Youth and Environments, 27, 110-124.
Chawla, L. (2015). Benefits of nature contact for children. Journal of Planning Literature, 30, 433–452.
Collado, S., Staats, H., & Corraliza, J. A. (2013). Experiencing nature in children’s summer camps: Affective, cognitive and behavioural consequences. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 33, 37-44.
Duerden, M. D., & Witt, P. A. (2010). The impact of direct and indirect experiences on the development of environmental knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 379-392.
Hughes, J., Rogerson, M., Barton, J., & Bragg, R. (2019). Age and connection to nature: When is engagement critical? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 17, 265–69.
Lumber, R., Richardson, M., & Sheffield, D. (2017). Beyond knowing nature: Contact, emotion, compassion, meaning, and beauty are pathways to nature connection. PloS One, 12, e0177186.
Mackay, C. M. L., & Schmitt, M. T. (2019). Do people who feel connected to nature do more to protect it? A meta-analysis. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 65, 101323.
Milfont, T. L., Poortinga, W., Sibley, C. G. (2020) Does having children increase environmental concern? Testing parenthood effects with longitudinal data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study. PLoS ONE, 15(3), e0230361.
Mygind, L. et al. (2021). Landscapes of becoming social: A systematic review of evidence for associations and pathways between interactions with nature and socioemotional development in children. Environment International, 146, 106238.
Otto, S., & Pensini , P. (2017). Nature-based environmental education of children: Environmental knowledge and connectedness to nature, together, are related to ecological behaviour. Global Environmental Change, 47, 88-94.
Passmore, H. A., Martin, L., Richardson, M., White, M., Hunt, A., & Pahl, S. (2020). “Parental/guardians’ connection to nature better predicts children’s nature connectedness than visits or area-level characteristics. Ecopsychology.
Richardson, M., Hunt, A., Hinds, J., Bragg, R., Fido, D., Petronzi, D., Barbett, L., Clitherow, T., & White, M. (2019). A measure of nature connectedness for children and adults: Validation, performance, and insights. Sustainability, 11, 3250.
Stevenson, M. P., Schilhab, T., & Bentsen, P. (2018). Attention restoration theory II: A systematic review to clarify attention processes affected by exposure to natural environments. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health B, 21, 227–268.
Tam, K. P. (2013). Concepts and measures related to connection to nature: Similarities and differences. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 34, 64-78.
Thomas, G. O., Fisher, R., Whitmarsh, L., Milfont, T. L., & Poortina, W. (2018). The impact of parenthood on environmental attitudes and behaviour: a longitudinal investigation of the legacy hypothesis. Population and Environment ,39, 261-276.
Whitburn, J., Linklater, W., & Abrahamse, W. (2020). Meta-analysis of human connection to nature and proenvironmental behavior. Conservation Biology, 34, 180-193.
How to Apply
Applicants should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology with a start date of October 2021
In the research proposal section of your application, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project and copy the project description in the text box provided. In the funding section, please select 'I will be applying for a scholarship/grant' and specify that you are applying for advertised funding from Generation Wild: The role of children’s experiences of nature in nature connectedness, wellbeing, and environmental values and behaviour.
Deadline for applications is the 19th March 2021 with interviews taking place in April 2021
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