Many modern environmental issues have been attributed to declining rates of environmental literacy in the general population. In this line of inquiry, we respond to the problem by developing innovative tools for understanding, assessing, and promoting environmental awareness and pro-environmental behavior in children and adults. This includes an emphasis on expanding public engagement in environmental research and policy, with the ultimate goal of providing diverse populations with the skills needed to make informed decisions and engage in responsible stewardship actions. Our research in this thematic area includes studies of:
Citizen Science Motivations & Outcomes
Project Partners & Start Date: Multiple partners (2015-present)
Citizen science initiatives are rapidly growing in popularity, but relatively little social science research has explored the mechanisms driving the citizen science movement. Of particular interest are the motivations of citizen science participants and the individual and community-level outcomes (both ecological and educational) derived program involvement. To answer some of these questions, we are working with a variety of programs (e.g., Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, NYC Citizen Water Quality Testing) and institutions (e.g., Columbia University, NC Museum of Natural Sciences) to enhance understanding of citizen scientists and accomplish these goals. Our studies are exploring participant demographics, motivations, perceived constraints, data usage, and the broader environmental, social, and political impacts associated with diverse programs. Results should inform the development and implementation of future citizen efforts to increase participant satisfaction and maximize beneficial outcomes.
Nature Experiences & Youth Development
Project Partners & Start Date: Boy Scouts of America, Clemson University (2014-present)
Working with colleagues within Clemson’s College of Behavioral, Social, and Health Sciences, we are developing a comprehensive tool to facilitate exploration of correlates of positive youth development in low-income, rural and urban adolescents. The instrument will build on existing tools that emphasize the Five C’s of positive youth development (PYD). However, we will leverage the strengths of our diverse research team to create additional measures that expand current thinking regarding PYD. A key component absent in current current models of PYD is youth connection with nature. Many recent studies have highlighted the multifaceted benefits of youth time outdoors. This interdisciplinary investigation will attempt to quantify if/how contact with nature influence broader youth development outcomes. We are field testing this instrument with the support of Boy Scouts of America at several youth camp experiences geared towards diverse audiences.
Nature-based Recreation & Conservation Behavior
Project Partners & Start Date: NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation (2012-present)
Working with colleagues at Cornell University and agency collaborators from across New York State, we are studying the relationships among wildlife-associated recreation (e.g., hunting and birdwatching), sense of place, and participation in local environmental and capacity-building behaviors. Using a combination of interview and survey methods, we are attempting to identify associations in a hypothesized Recreation-Conservation Model and construct a set of recommendations that will help land managers in socio-economically deprived areas capitalize on nature-based recreation to cultivate place bonds, foster stewardship behavior, and enhance community vitality.
Sea Turtle Conservation Outreach in Coastal Georgia
Project Partners & Dates: University of Georgia; Georgia Sea Grant; Georgia Sea Turtle Center (2014-present)
As coastal development increases in many areas of the world, marine species often suffer. Because sea turtles rely on healthy beach ecosystems for reproduction, they are particularly vulnerable to anthropenic change. We are working with colleagues at the University of Georgia and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in Jekyll Island, GA, to understand sea turtles’ response to altered beachfront landscapes. We are also working to identify the best form of public education and outreach platform to inform beach guests of good stewardship behaviors with the goal of reducing environmental impacts and promoting sustainable development.
Altering Awareness of & Attitudes Towards Alligators
Project Partners & Dates: Georgia Sea Turtle Center (2012-2015)
Dr. Larson served as part of a University of Georgia team exploring the effects of integrating biological research into public awareness and outreach campaigns centered on priority species of concern. In this case, our research was directed at a common source of human-wildlife conflict in coastal regions of the southeastern U.S., the American alligator. Using Jekyll Island, GA, as a case study site, we assessed local residents’ and tourists’ awareness of and attitudes toward alligators with the goal of identifying and developing optimal strategies for management and objective communication related to human-alligator interactions.
Environmental Education in Underserved Communities
Project Partners & Dates: State Botanical Garden of Georgia; Sandy Creek Nature Center; Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services (2007-2012)
Working with a number of local organizations, we designed, implemented, and evaluated a series of nature-based eco-camps in historically underserved communities. The project was designed to examine the factors that affect the development and maintenance of positive environmental orientations in minority children. A later phase of the project investigated the influence of different EE delivery methods (particularly art-based EE programming) on children’s environmental attitudes and awareness. These collective studies resulted in the theses of Dr. Larson and graduate student Ami Flowers.
Other Past Projects Linked to the Lab
Effects of a Nature-based After-school Program on Students & Teachers
From 2007-2010, Dr. Larson worked with the State Botanical Garden of Georgia to evaluate the effects of the year-long Garden Earth Naturalist After-school Science Club program on the environmental orientations of elementary and middle school students and teachers across Georgia. The evaluation also incorporated feedback from teachers collected during the biannual professional development curriculum workshops.