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Connecting with Nature in the Digital Age: Intentions of Adolescents in California Urban Areas

Keri Schwab, William W. Hendricks, Jerusha B. Greenwood, Marni Goldenberg, Brian Greenwood, Lindsey Higgins


Automated devices dominate the daily experience for most people in the United States, and for many, nature offers a respite ripe with well-documented emotional, psychological, and physical benefits. However, opportunities with and access to open spaces can be limited by structural barriers that often create limits to engagement by people living in urban areas. A first stage of this project initiated with listening sessions and workshops with youth in urban and rural settings in southern and central California as a means of crafting effective marketing strategies designed by youth to engage young people of color with nature and open spaces. The second stage, reported here, was implemented to examine the effects of race/ethnicity and social media video messaging on Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) dimensions. Using a quasi-experimental design, panels of urban youth aged 12-16 in four California cities participated in an online panel survey. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three themed message groups generated from the content themes developed by youth during the workshops (escape and unplug, connect with family and friends, or discover and adventure) or a control group. The questionnaire included 11 items related to the TPB. Separate 4x4 ANOVAs with race/ethnicity and the treatments/control group as the independent variables and TPB dimensions as the dependent variables revealed an interaction effect for one perceived behavioral control item. There were also significant differences by race/ethnicity on all four TPB dimensions. Mean scores of the respondents who watched one of the three videos were higher than the control group for all 11 TPB items measured. TPB item scores among White and Black respondents were typically higher than scores for Asian and Latinx respondents. Results of a hierarchical regression analysis with race/ethnicity, treatments/control group, perceived behavioral control, attitudes, and social norms as the independent variables and behavioral intentions as the dependent variable suggested that attitudes and social norms were the strongest predictors of behavioral intentions. The results add significant value in the practical application of the intersection between automated devices and social media marketing for engaging underrepresented groups in the digital age. 

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Theory of Planned Behavior; underrepresented youth; outdoor recreation; natural areas; social media marketing

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