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38 Ways to Measure Awe and Connectedness to Nature

Reminding people of their connection to nature may shift their attitudes.

Key points

  • Questionnaires that measure people's connectedness to nature raise awareness of how climate change affects us personally.
  • A review of 57 nature-related articles identifies 38 scales that assess the psychometrics of feeling connected to the environment.
  • From a policymaking perspective, the Spiritual Attitude and Involvement List and other measures might boost pro-environmental support.
Creative Travel Projects/Shutterstock
Source: Creative Travel Projects/Shutterstock

Being awed by the wonderment of nature is a breathtaking experience that can send blissful shivers down your spine.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature's awesome power is increasingly marked by terror and destruction. Whether the environment inspires eudaimonia or intimidation, the awe experienced during "wow!" moments in nature never fails to remind us that there's something much bigger and more powerful than we are in the universe.

I was reminded of nature's "shock and awe" capacity throughout the night of Sept. 1-2, 2021. Hurricane Ida whipped through my Massachusetts hometown in the wee hours of the morning, dumping record-breaking amounts of rain overnight. We were relatively lucky; nobody died near where I live.

The loss of life from this storm in four Northeastern states farther south (CT, NJ, NY, PA) is a reminder of how extreme weather caused by climate change threatens life as we've known it. Before and after satellite images from the daylight hours of Sept. 2 show the devastation.

In the predawn hours of Sept. 2, I watched the storm pass overhead on Doppler radar and then drove to my 24-hour fitness club with treadmills overlooking a mountain range. I wanted to witness the sun coming up after the storm while jogging. Daybreak was especially dramatic in Ida's wake. I watched in amazement as what seemed like a billion shafts of golden amber light pierced through dark purple clouds and stretched across the valley. This sunrise was sublime and gave me goosebumps.

The spiritual connectedness I felt to nature the morning after Hurricane Ida was awe-inspiring and humbling. As Brandon Flowers might sing, it felt like "magic soakin' my spine." This feeling of wonderment and gratitude made me want to protect our planet, and in doing so, preserve this majestic human experience.

Research suggests (Martin et al., 2020) that when people spend time in green spaces (parks, forests, mountainscapes) or blue spaces (ponds, rivers, seascapes) and experience a visceral or spiritual sense of connectedness to nature, it enhances pro-environmental attitudes and support of climate change policy. (See, "Connectedness to Nature Is Good for Us and for Planet Earth.")

How Many Ways Can Our Connectedness to Nature Be Measured? There Are 38 Scales.

Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa's Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health performed a scoping literature review of 57 unique articles related to "nature, land, and environmental connectedness and relatedness." Their open-access findings (Keaulana et al., 2021) were recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

This review identifies 38 different scales that can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Connectedness and relatedness scales (n = 9 scales)
  2. Attitudinal and values-based scales (n = 16 scales)
  3. Cultural and spiritually based scales (n = 9 scales)
  4. Paradigm-based scales (n = 4 scales)

"Land, nature, and environmental connectedness need to be better explored in health research. But 'connectedness' can be a difficult thing to measure," senior author Mapuana Antonio, assistant professor in public health specializing in Native Hawaiian and Indigenous health, said in a September 2021 news release.

Of the many different scales identified by the researchers, two that really stood out to me are the Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS), which assesses nature as a source of happiness (Mayer & Frantz, 2004) and the Spiritual Attitude and Involvement List (SAIL), which measures spirituality as a universal human experience (Meezenbroek et al., 2012).

The prompts on the 14-item CNS are answered using a Likert scale that ranges from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." To what extent would you agree or disagree with each item in this sampling of CNS prompts in bullet points below?

  • I often feel a sense of oneness with the natural world around me.
  • When I think of my life, I imagine myself to be part of a larger cyclical process of living.
  • I have a deep understanding of how my actions affect the natural world.
  • I often feel part of the web of life.
  • My personal welfare is independent of the welfare of the natural world.

The Spiritual Attitude and Involvement List is considered by many to be one of the most comprehensive instruments for measuring secular spirituality. The 26-item SAIL questionnaire is divided into seven domains: (1) Meaningfulness, (2) Trust, (3) Acceptance, (4) Caring for Others, (5) Connectedness with Nature, (6) Transcendent Experiences, and (7) Spiritual Activities.

The SAIL assessment also uses a Likert scale and includes prompts such as:

  • The beauty of nature moves me.
  • When I am in nature, I feel a sense of connection.
  • I have had experiences in which I seemed to merge with a power or force greater than myself.
  • I have had experiences in which all things seemed to be part of a greater whole.
  • I have had experiences where I seemed to rise above myself.
  • I accept that I am not able to influence everything.
  • I am aware that each life has its own tragedy.
  • I accept that life will inevitably sometimes bring me pain.
  • I am receptive to other people's suffering.
  • It is important to me that I can do things for others.

How would you respond to these SAIL prompts using a strongly agree to disagree strongly scale? If the complete 26-item SAIL questionnaire seems too long, recently, the University of Twente's Leon Frielingsdorf created a short-form version (SAIL-SF) that boils it down to a seven-item list that demonstrated "essential unidimensionality with sufficient factor loadings and alpha coefficients."

Could Focusing on the Universality of Our Spiritual Connectedness to Nature Increase Bipartisan Support for "Green" Environmental Policies?

Emerging evidence suggests that when individuals acknowledge that being in nature makes them feel spiritually connected, it can shift their mindset about conservancy. As policymakers try to win voter support for pro-environmental legislation, using questionnaires such as the Connectedness to Nature Scale and the Spiritual Attitude and Involvement List might help individuals in the general population become more cognizant of personal reasons they want to protect our planet from global warming's greenhouse effect.


Samantha Keaulana, Melissa Kahili-Heede, Lorinda Riley, Mei Linn N. Park, Kuaiwi Laka Makua, Jetney Kahaulahilahi Vegas and Mapuana C. K. Antonio. "A Scoping Review of Nature, Land, and Environmental Connectedness and Relatedness." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (First published: May 31, 2021) DOI: 10.3390/ijerph18115897

Leanne Martin, Mathew P. White, Anne Hunt, Miles Richardson, Sabine Pahl, and Jim Burta. "Nature Contact, Nature Connectedness and Associations With Health, Wellbeing and Pro-Environmental Behaviours." Journal of Environmental Psychology (First published online: January 18, 2020) DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2020.101389

F. Stephan Mayer and Cynthia McPherson Frantz. "The Connectedness to Nature Scale: A Measure of Individuals’ Feeling in Community With Nature." Journal of Environmental Psychology (First published: December 2004) DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2004.10.001

Eltica de Jager Meezenbroek, Bert Garssen, Machteld van den Berg, Gerwi Tuytel, Dirk van Dierendonck, Adriaan Visser, et al. "Measuring Spirituality as a Universal Human Experience: Development of the Spiritual Attitude and Involvement List (SAIL)." Journal of Psychosocial Oncology (First published online: March 14, 2012) DOI: 10.1080/07347332.2011.651258