Childhood trauma may lead a person to volunteer, donate money, or contact their elected officials about environmental issues later in life, according to new research published in Scientific Reports.
The CU Boulder and Loyola University study is the first in the U.S. to link childhood trauma and public, civic environmental engagement in adulthood. He also found that in addition to people who experienced childhood trauma, those who traveled and had experiences in nature as children were also more likely to engage in private “green behaviors” as adults. were more likely to report, such as recycling, driving or flying less, and taking shorter showers
“We set out to explore the reasons or motivations for why someone would become environmentally engaged versus not experiencing and Childhood trauma emerged as a really powerful motivator,” said lead author Arooj Raja, who earned a doctorate in environmental sciences at CU Boulder in 2021.
As part of Raja’s doctoral work, researchers conducted a survey in 2020 that examined two types of environmental engagement using a nationally representative sample of nearly 450 American adults. Public, civic engagement is measured in hours devoted to an environmental cause, such as writing letters to elected officials or donating time and resources to an organization. Private, green attitude was defined as self-reported measures adopted by individuals or households to reduce environmental impacts.
Previous research has shown that people who experience natural disasters as children are more likely to be involved in environmental causes, but these new findings show that any type of childhood trauma Related to adulthood is an increasing interest in engagement in private and public environments. This suggests that there may be something about an early, negative experience that prompts individuals to engage with environmental issues at a public or policy level rather than simply practicing green behavior.
“This suggests there may be another way to look at trauma,” said Raja, now an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Communication.
While the researchers can’t say exactly why experiencing traumatic events earlier in life increases the likelihood of public involvement in environmental issues, they note that previous research has linked trauma to stronger feelings of empathy and greener attitudes. What is empathy associated with behavior?
It may also be partly a coping mechanism, Raja said, trying to prevent bad things from happening to other people or living things.
Drivers of environmental engagement
Research in this area has often examined disengagement–the reasons why people do not act on pressing environmental issues. Raja’s team wanted to know: What makes engagers work?
First, Raja interviewed 33 people who are deeply involved in environmental issues. He discovered that many people had experienced some form of childhood trauma.
“It emerged as a very powerful piece of why people want to do environmental work and get involved,” Raja said.
Second, they collected survey data from about 450 American adults who self-reported that they spent five hours or more working on environmental issues in the past month. They answered several questions about themselves, including their current civic engagement and green behaviors, early childhood experiences (gardening, swimming in a lake or going on a walk in the woods for the first time), and traumatic childhood experiences. . (experiencing poverty or hunger, not having a safe home environment, losing a parent or sibling, dealing with health problems, or enduring sexual harassment, assault or bullying).
The data showed that childhood experiences in nature, travel and trauma were predictors of private, green behavior later in life. However, only childhood trauma was also significantly associated with public, civic engagement. Compared to other early life experiences, trauma also had the greatest impact on predicting green behavior.
Studies over the past decades — including the work of Louise Chawla, professor emerita in the Environmental Design Program — have found a strong link between childhood travel and experiences in nature and pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors later in life. The new survey confirms that these kinds of childhood experiences still predict green behavior as adults today.
“This is another data point that supports the value of creating opportunities for people to connect with nature, and the importance of those experiences in building a society that protects the natural resources we all depend on. do,” said Amanda Carrico, co-author. New Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at CU Boulder.
More resources and support are needed.
Carrico, who trained as an environmental psychologist and teaches courses on climate change, has noticed that many students and professionals in the field struggle not only with the weight of their work, but also with the experiences they have. They also struggle with what they can achieve.
“It’s emotionally intense and exhausting,” Carrico said, noting that those who work to mitigate climate change are also often part of communities directly affected by its growing effects. are affected. “You’re talking about a community of people who seem to be carrying a different kind of emotionally complex burden.”
The authors say the findings only emphasize the need for people engaged in public or urban environmental work to have access to resources and support.
Raja said that people have said in their own words that we need better resources. “Making the connection between adverse childhood experiences and the need for more resources for people doing this type of work is an important first step in doing so.”
This story was published without editing the text from a wire agency feed. Only the title has been changed.