Summary: People who experience trauma and abuse in childhood are more likely to participate in civic environmental activities and green behaviors later in life, according to a new study.

Source: University of Colorado

Experiencing trauma in childhood may lead an individual to volunteer, donate money or speak to elected officials about environmental issues later in life, a recently published study suggests. Scientific reports.

The CU Boulder and Loyola University study is the first in the United States to link childhood trauma and public, civic engagement in adulthood. Additionally, in addition to those who experienced childhood trauma, those who traveled as children and had experiences in nature were more likely to report as adults, such as recycling, driving or flying less, and engaging in personal “green behavior.” Take a short shower.

In the year “We plan to explore why or why a person might not be connected to the environment and experience childhood pain,” said lead author Uroy Raja, who will earn a doctorate in environmental studies at CU Boulder in 2021.

As part of Raja’s doctoral work, the researchers conducted a 2020 survey using a nationally representative sample of nearly 450 US adults to examine two types of environmental work.

Public and civic engagement is measured monthly in hours devoted to environmental causes, such as writing letters to elected officials or donating time and resources to an organization. Personal, green behavior is defined as self-reported actions taken by individuals or households to reduce their environmental impact.

Previous studies have shown that people who experience natural disasters in childhood are more likely to be involved in environmental issues, but these new findings show that any type of trauma that occurs in childhood is associated with an interest in personal and public environmental participation as an adult.

This suggests that there may be something about a formative negative experience that prompts individuals to engage with environmental issues at the public or policy level, rather than simply experiencing green behavior.

“It suggests that there may be another way to look at trauma,” said Raja, who is now an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Communication.

While the researchers can’t say for sure whether experiencing trauma earlier in life increases the likelihood of public engagement in environmental issues, previous research has linked traumatic experiences with stronger feelings of empathy and green behavior.

Also, trying to prevent bad things from happening to other people or living things can be part of a coping mechanism, Raja said.

Drivers of environmental participation

Research in this area has often examined disengagement—why people don’t act on pressing environmental issues. Raja’s group wanted to know: Who is driving them do participate?

First, Raja interviewed 33 people who are highly involved in environmental issues. She found out that many had experienced some form of childhood trauma.

“It turned out to be a very powerful part of why people want and engage with environmental work,” says Raja.

Second, they collected survey data from 450 US adults who reported working five hours or more on environmental issues in the past month.

They answered a series of questions about themselves, current civic engagement and green behavior, their earliest childhood experiences (gardening, swimming in a lake or taking their first walk in the woods), and traumatic childhood experiences (living in poverty or hunger, not having a safe home environment). , losing a parent or sibling, dealing with health issues, or sexual harassment, assault or bullying).

The data indicated that childhood experiences in nature, travel and trauma were predictors of personal and green behavior later in life. However, only childhood trauma was significantly associated with public, civic engagement. Trauma also had the greatest impact in predicting green behavior, compared to other life experiences.

Research over the past decades – including that of Louise Chawla, Professor Emeritus in the Environmental Design Program – has found a strong link between childhood travel and nature experiences and environmental attitudes and behaviors later in life. The new survey confirms that these kinds of childhood experiences still predict green behavior in adults today.

This shows a hand holding green land.
This suggests that there may be something about a formative negative experience that prompts individuals to engage with environmental issues at the public or policy level, rather than simply experiencing green behavior. Image is in public domain.

“This is another data point about the importance of creating opportunities for people to connect with nature and the importance of these experiences in creating a society that protects the natural resources we all depend on,” said Amanda Carrico. New research and associate professor in the CU Boulder Department of Environmental Studies.

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Carrico, who trained as an environmental psychologist and teaches courses on climate change, finds that many students and professionals in the field struggle not only with the weight of their work, but also with the experiences that lead to it.

“It’s emotionally difficult and exhausting,” Carrico said, noting that those working to address climate change are also the communities most directly affected by the growing impacts. “You’re talking about a community of people who seem to be burdened with other kinds of emotional complexities.”

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This shows a woman putting her hand on her face to protect herself

According to the authors, the findings further emphasize the need for resources and support for those engaged in public or civic environmental work.

“People have said in their own words that we need better resources,” Raja said. “Making the connection between adverse childhood experiences and the need for more resources for people doing this kind of work is an important first step in doing so.”

Financial support This work was funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Center for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences, and the Department of Environmental Studies. Publication of this article was supported by the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries Open Access Fund.

So trauma and environmental neuroscience research news

Author: Kelsey Simpkins
Source: University of Colorado
Contact: Kelsey Simpkins – University of Colorado
Image: The image is in the public domain.

Preliminary study: Open Access.
Childhood trauma and other life experiences predict environmental involvement.In Uroj Raja et al. Scientific reports


Childhood trauma and other life experiences predict environmental involvement.

Environmental problems continue to intensify. However, despite scientific consensus on threats such as climate change, widespread public engagement with the issue remains elusive. In this article, we focus on childhood formative experiences and how they relate to environmental participation.

We consider two types of environmental engagement: civic engagement, measured in hours devoted to environmental causes each month, and private-sphere green behavior.

Previous research on significant life experiences has shown that early experiences, particularly in childhood, are related to environmental attitudes and careers in later life.

However, we know little about the ecological phenomena encountered by modern environmentalists. In a nationally representative sample of US adults (n = 449), childhood illness predicted both civic engagement and green behavior.

We find that childhood experiences in nature and childhood travel experiences predict green behavior but not civic engagement.

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