Opportunities for people to interact with nature have declined over the past century, as most people now live in urban areas and spend much of their time indoors. And while adults are not only experiencing nature less, they are also less likely to take their children outdoors and shape their attitudes toward nature, creating a negative cycle. In 1978, ecologist Robert Pyle coined the phrase “extinction of experience” (EOE) to describe this alienation from nature, and argued that this process is one of the greatest causes of the biodiversity crisis. Four decades later, the question arises: How can we break the cycle and begin to reverse EOE?
In citizen science programs, people participate in real research, helping scientists conduct studies on local, regional and even global scales. In a study released today, researchers from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, North Carolina State University, Rutgers University, and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology propose nature-based citizen science as a means to reconnect people to nature. For people to take the next step and develop a desire to preserve nature, they need to not only go outdoors or learn about nature, but to develop emotional connections to and empathy for nature. Because citizen science programs usually involve data collection, they encourage participants to search for, observe and investigate natural elements around them. According to co-author Caren Cooper, assistant head of the Biodiversity Lab at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, “Nature-based citizen science provides a structure and purpose that might help people notice nature around them and appreciate it in their daily lives.”
To search for evidence of these patterns across programs and the ability of citizen science to reach non-scientific audiences, the researchers studied the participants of citizen science programs. They reviewed 975 papers, analyzed results from studies that included participants’ motivations and/or outcomes in nature-oriented programs, and found that nature-based citizen science fosters cognitive and emotional aspects of experiences in nature, giving it the potential to reverse EOE.
The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences’ Stephanie Schuttler, lead author on the study and scientist on the eMammal citizen science camera trapping program, saw anecdotal evidence of this reversal through her work incorporating camera trap research into K-12 classrooms. “Teachers would tell me how excited and surprised students were about the wildlife in their school yards,” Schuttler says. “They had no idea their campus flourished with coyotes, foxes and deer.” The study Schuttler headed shows citizen science increased participants’ knowledge, skills, interest in and curiosity about nature, and even produced positive behavioral changes. For example, one study revealed that participants in the Garden Butterfly Watch program changed gardening practices to make their yards more hospitable to wildlife. Another study found that participants in the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team program started cleaning up beaches during surveys, even though this was never suggested by the facilitators.
While these results are promising, the EOE study also revealed that this work has only just begun and that most programs do not reach audiences who are not already engaged in science or nature. Only 26 of the 975 papers evaluated participants’ motivations and/or outcomes, and only one of these papers studied children, the most important demographic in reversing EOE. “Many studies were full of amazing stories on how citizen science awakened participants to the nature around them, however, most did not study outcomes,” Schuttler notes. “To fully evaluate the ability for nature-based citizen science to affect people, we encourage citizen science programs to formally study their participants and not just study the system in question.”
Additionally, most citizen science programs attracted or even recruited environmentally mindful participants who likely already spend more time outside than the average person. “If we really want to reconnect people to nature, we need to preach beyond the choir, and attract people who are not already interested in science and/or nature,” Schuttler adds. And as co-author Assaf Shwartz of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology asserts, “The best way to avert the extinction of experience is to create meaningful experiences of nature in the places where we all live and work – cities. Participating in citizen science is an excellent way to achieve this goal, as participation can enhance the sense of commitment people have to protect nature.”
Luckily, some other factors appear to influence participants’ involvement in citizen science. Desire for wellbeing, stewardship and community may provide a gateway for people to participate, an important first step in connecting people to nature. Though nature-based citizen science programs provide opportunities for people to interact with nature, further research on the mechanisms that drive this relationship is needed to strengthen our understanding of various outcomes of citizen science.
The Latest on: Citizen science
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The Latest on: Citizen science
- Citizen Science in the Classroom: NASA Globe Observer Clouds on September 18, 2018 at 5:22 am
Citizen science can be an excellent way to engage learners in the process of science and to address the Practices as outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). In each issue of ... […]
- Satellites and citizen science pinpoint migratory bird refueling stops on September 17, 2018 at 5:28 am
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- Education notes: Cooper Center, UA host high school citizen science program on September 16, 2018 at 7:27 pm
A new hands-on science curriculum, co-developed by the University of Arizona and launching in three Southern Arizona high schools this fall, will engage students in citizen science projects to ... […]
- With government sidelined, citizen scientists test water quality in Puerto Rico on September 16, 2018 at 7:09 am
So, a citizen science group in Rincón, Puerto Rico, rallied to help test drinking water sources. Rincón, on the west coast of Puerto Rico, is a mecca for surfers and beachgoing tourists. The town has ... […]
- Play it forward with citizen science games! on September 10, 2018 at 10:07 am
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- Your Hysterical Tweet About That Spider in Your Sink Could Prove Useful for Science on September 10, 2018 at 9:55 am
“In the future, our tendency to share everything could be an absolute goldmine for scientists using this type of ‘passive citizen science.’” According to a press release, Twitter has some built-in adv... […]
- Rain, citizen science and deep data on September 9, 2018 at 11:41 pm
“Location, location, location” is not only the real estate agent’s mantra. It applies even more to meteorologists. And perhaps it applies to you if you read your gauge faithfully and record the totals ... […]
- Otter talk offered: Professor to discuss merging citizen art, science on September 9, 2018 at 6:00 am
Humboldt State University Wildlife Professor Jeff Black will speak on “North Coast Otters: Merging Citizen Art & Science” Sept. 21. This free public lecture, starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Arcata Marsh ... […]
- Citizen scientists take to streams, fields of Northern Michigan on September 6, 2018 at 7:19 am
Lawson, a computer programmer, is one of various residents of Northern Michigan who partakes in citizen science. Laura Young, a research and outreach associate for the Institute of Water Research at M... […]
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