The Developmental of Environmental Moral Concerns

Children are our next generation of conservationists. To support children’s concerns for conservation we need to understand their moral relationship with the natural world (Leopold 1970/1949; Wilson 1984; Shepard 1996; Melson 2001; Kahn and Kellert 2002; Kellert 2002; Myers 2007/1998;Karpiak and Baril 2008). Children extend moral concern for protecting nature (Nevers, Gebhard and Billmann-Mahecha 1997; Kahn 1999; Myers 2007/1998; Melson 2013). When they do, their moral reasoning is predominately focused on human concerns, wherein the natural world has value insofar as it has value to humans. Nature-centered morality is the moral view that the natural world has inherent value, that is, it is good in itself, independent of its value to humans and not only as a means to some end. Psychologists (Clayton and Myers 2009), biologists (Wilson 1984), educators (Scott and Gough 2003), and ethicists (Rolston 1989) have argued that nature-centered morality is core to conservation. With my research on environmental moral reasoning I aim to address, from a developmental perspective:

1) What is the quality and prevalence of nature-centered moral reasoning across the lifespan?

2) What beliefs about the biological world structure moral concern for the environment?

3) Do variations in environmental moral concerns emerge across cultures, and with the intersectionality of race, region, religion, and gender?

Selected Publications and Presentations:

Ruckert, J. H. (2016). Justice for all?: Children’s moral reasoning about the welfare and rights of endangered species. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals 29, 205-217. [PDF]

Ruckert, J. H. (2016). Generation conservation: Children’s developing folkbiological and moral conceptions of protecting endangered species. Early Education and Development, 1-15. [PDF]

Ruckert, J. H. (2015, June). The development of moral concerns for endangered species. Invited Guest Speaker at the international sustainability conference: Seizing an Alternative Toward an Ecological Civilization, Claremont, CA.

Media Outreach:
Lewis & Clark College Collaborative Research - Entangle Empathy: Links Between Empathy and Environmental Morality, 2017 Faculty-Student Summer Research Grant ($7500)

A Children's Nature Language

Little is known about the quality of nature experiences children have, and how these nature experiences relate to their developing environmental and moral understanding. My colleagues and I have offered the Nature Language - an emerging typology of patterns of interactions between humans and nature and their wide range of ways these experiences emerge in people’s lives (Kahn, Ruckert, & Hasbach, 2012; Kahn, Ruckert, Severson, Reichert, & Fowler, 2010). Importantly, the Nature Language adds to the critical discourse around the diversity of experiences people have in nature, and in our modern times are losing access to and knowledge of. With my current work I seek to further the Nature Language typology with an account of meaningful nature experiences of children.   My initial findings reveal a typology of meaningful nature experiences children share with their caregivers, and associations between certain nature experiences and the prevalence of nature-centered moral reasoning. With this work I seek to  provide evidence-based structure to community planning, environmental education, and conservation initiatives.

Selected Publications and Presentations:

Ruckert, J. H. (2016, June). The new conservation task: Investigating links between parent-child interactions in nature and children’s environmental moral reasoning. Paper presented at the 46th Annual Meeting of the Jean Piaget Society, Chicago, IL.

Ruckert, J. H. (2013, July). The Ethnoscience of surfing: Psychology, lexicón and culture. Paper presented at the 122nd Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Honolulu, HI.

Kahn, P. H., Jr., Ruckert, J. H., & Hasbach, P. H. (2012). A Nature Language. In P. H. Kahn, Jr. & P. H. Hasbach (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Science, Totems, and the Technological Species. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kahn, P. H., Jr., Ruckert, J. H., Severson, R. L., Reichert, A. L., & Fowler, E. (2010). A nature language: An agenda to catalog, save, and recover patterns of human-nature interaction. Ecopsychology, 2, 59-66.

Ruckert, J. H. (2008, September). Wild Animals in Captivity?  - A Critique of Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach. Paper  presented at the Society for Human Ecology Conference, Bellingham, WA.

Ruckert, J. H., & Kahn, P. H., Jr. (2007, June). Biophilia – Past Conundrums and New Directions. Paper presented at the Psychology-Ecology-Sustainability Conference, Portland, OR.

Kahn, P. H., Jr., Rupp, A., Severson, R. L., McClintock, K., Ruckert, J. H., Stromdahl, P. (2008, September). Designing for the Biodiversity of Human Experience: A Conversation Between (and with) a Research Lab and Professional Design Firm. Roundtable at the XVI International Conference of the Society for Human Ecology, Bellingham, WA.

Media Outreach:

Jabr, F. (2010). Can a Stroll in the Park Replace the Psychiatrist’s Couch? A new generation of psychologists and therapists focus on the relationship between nature and mental health. ScienceLine, August 12, 2010. 

Main, E. (2009). 5 Ways to get more nature into your life., April 23, 2009. 

Psychological Relationships with Technologically-mediated Nature

Our relationship with nature is increasingly mediated with digital technologies. There are stargazing, foraging, and animal raising Apps (to name a few).  We can Geocache in the deep woods or learn about trees on handheld devices while walking through the arboretum. People sit by digital fire displays on a cold winter's night.  My colleagues and I have sought to understand the possibilities and limitations in our relationship with technologically mediated nature. Past and future research questions include: How do people understand and experience technological nature (e.g., digital windows, robot dogs, humanoid robot nature guides)? Do children develop psychological relationships with nature through technological mediation (e.g., nature documentaries, nature apps)? How can technologies support children's developing moral concerns for the natural world?

Selected Publications and Presentations:

Kahn, P. H., Jr., Severson, R. L., & Ruckert, J. H. (2010). Experiencing technological nature – and the problem when good enough becomes good. In M. Korthals & P. B. Thompson (Series Eds.), M. Drenthen & J. Keulartz (Vol. Eds.). New Visions of Nature. Berlin: Springer.

Kahn, P. H., Jr., Severson, R. L., & Ruckert, J. H. (2009). The human relationship with nature and technological nature. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 37-42.

Ruckert, J. H. (2010, March). Growing Up With Robots? Social and Moral Development in a Technological World. Workshop for young innovators in HRI at Advanced Telecommunications Research Laboratory (ATR), Nara, Japan.

Ruckert, J. H. (2009, March). Robotic Technologies in the Lives of Children. Workshop: ‘Social Responsibility in HRI: Conducting our Research, Changing the World’ at the 4th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2008), San Diego, California, March.

Kahn, P. H., Jr., Ruckert, J. H., & Severson, R. L. (2007, June). Nature goes digital – Does it matter? Paper presented at the Psychology-Ecology-Sustainability Conference, Portland, OR.

Media Outreach:

Stewart, J. (2009). Science in Action: 10/07/2009.  BBC World News, July, 10, 2009. 

Dye, L. (2009). Technological nature takes over: With technology invading every aspect of our lives,researchers question the cost., April 8, 2009.