Nature Deficit Disorder

This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.

Here’s an interesting take on this, with a specific perspective on children and young people.  Richard Louv published ‘Last Child in the Woods’ in the USA last year, and has defined the condition of Nature Deficit Disorder.  Which feels to me like it could be something that could be worked with…  in an excerpt in Resurgence magazine earlier this year, he put some of the key science across impressively:

“Researchers have discovered that children as young as five showed a significant reduction in the symptoms of attention-deficit disorder when they engaged with Nature.  Schools that use outdoor classrooms and other methods of direct-experience learning are proven to produce students with enhanced skills in problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making.  Students are also more engaged in the classroom and more open to conflict resolution.”

Pretty powerful stuff.

I’ve arranged meetings with one or two senior clients of mine on this subject, to see if we can find ways to use marketing budgets to take on the cause.  I have my doubts, but given that traditional marketers aren’t going to disappear overnight, I’m going to steer my co-opting in this direction for a little while and see how I go.

Jon AlexanderNature Deficit Disorder


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  • Caspar Henderson - July 7, 2009 reply

    Michael Chabon has an interesting piece in the current NYRB on the lack of wilderness experience in the lives of (U.S.) children. (Manhood for Amateurs: The Wilderness of Childhood,

    One of his observations:

    The endangerment of children—that persistent theme of our lives, arts, and literature over the past twenty years—resonates so strongly because, as parents, as members of preceding generations, we look at the poisoned legacy of modern industrial society and its ills, at the world of strife and radioactivity, climatological disaster, overpopulation, and commodification, and feel guilty. As the national feeling of guilt over the extermination of the Indians led to the creation of a kind of cult of the Indian, so our children have become cult objects to us, too precious to be risked. At the same time they have become fetishes, the objects of an unhealthy and diseased fixation. And once something is fetishized, capitalism steps in and finds a way to sell it.

  • admin - July 7, 2009 reply

    Jon writes:

    I have my doubts, but given that traditional marketers aren’t going to disappear overnight, I’m going to steer my co-opting in this direction for a little while and see how I go.

    This really preoccupies me. I am convinced that it is wrong to sell stuff by forging an implicit link between a set of intrinsic values and a good or service that doesn’t really embody those values. It’s wrong to sell cabriolet cars on the grounds of them conferring freedom (they don’t), and it’s wrong to sell outdoor gear on the grounds of it conferring proximity to nature (pride in the ownership of a new Goretex coat is likely to promote a set of materialistic values which are actually antagonistic to a connection to nature).

    So I don’t see that trying to use commercial marketing budgets to promote connection to nature by deploying advertising campaigns that promote such connection can help. I think they are counterproductive.

    But what about non-commercial marketing? The National Trust ‘Wild Child’ campaign, or the RSPB ‘moments’ campaign?

    At one level, these are used to help sell membership, of course. And clearly connection to nature isn’t contingent upon National Trust, RSPB, or, for that matter, WWF membership. But can we really quibble about this?

  • Jon - July 7, 2009 reply

    This is the heart of the debate in my working life at the moment Tom – I am stuck between your logic, with which I completely agree, and the fact that we are where we are, and we have to start from here, whether we like it or not. Either we try to start sowing the seeds of affection for nature, and undermine the current convention from within, or the same money gets spent pushing pointless possessions anyway… As it happens, I am thinking more about brands with public service remit for now anyway, so perhaps I steer clear of your concern, but…

  • Ian Preston - July 7, 2009 reply

    We recently talked to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust about some joint working and I remember an interesting discussion about exposure to nature as a child and propensity to have environmental credentials later in life. Sorry no papers to reference.

    Whilst not specifically children, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), based in the US, have recently concluded a three-year study into how zoos impact on their visitor’s conservation knowledge and attitudes (Falk et al. 2007). Several of the study’s key findings are particularly relevant in terms of behaviour change:

    Visits to accredited zoos and aquariums prompted many individuals (54%) to reconsider their role in environmental problems and conservation action, and to see themselves as part of the solution.

    A majority (57%) of visitors said that their visit experience strengthened their connection to nature.

    Nearly half (46%) of the individuals interviewed offered unprompted comments related to personal actions they planned on taking as a consequence of their visit.

  • Ian Preston - July 13, 2009 reply

    I picked a Telegraph up on the train and came across an interesting interview with Children’s author Lauren St. John. “Animal conservation: children heed call to the wild. Animal conservation must start in the classroom if we want to save the planet.”

  • Jim - July 14, 2009 reply

    This post and Jon’s post on make me think about how the different ways marketing reaches us and its effectiveness. In The Practice of the Wild (G Snyder 1990), Snyder says ‘It is not enough to just ‘love nature’….our relation to the natural world takes place in a place, and must be grounded in information and experience’. Are we in danger with the screen / virtual -type driven nature awareness of encouraging a love of nature which is not grounded and thereby not effective in influencing values? The popularity of wildlife programmes and professed love of nature doesn’t match with pro-environmental behaviour. If this indeed were the case, then we should perhaps do more along the RSPB / Wildlife trust line of getting young and old into their nearest ‘wild’ place.

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