February 5, 2008

Interest in Nature Declines Due to ‘Videophilia’

Researchers say the public trend toward spending more time in front of computers and television is causing people to spend less time outdoors interacting with nature, and eventually, less interest in conservation and parks.

In Monday's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers report that per capita visits to parks, as well as camping and fishing trips are experiencing a noticeable decline.

According to The Nature Conservancy's Web site, the study examined data from the U.S. and Japan on a variety of outdoor activities from backpacking to duck hunting.

Co-authors of the study, Oliver R. W. Pergams and Patricia A. Zaradic, noted that this decline has crucial implications for conservation efforts and overall public health.

"The replacement of vigorous outdoor activities by sedentary, indoor videophilia has far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health, especially in children," Pergams said in a statement. "Videophilia has been shown to be a cause of obesity, lack of socialization, attention disorders and poor academic performance."

Research indicates that the decline began to occur in both Japan and the U.S. during the 1908s and 1990s, the period of rapid growth of video games.

"Most reliable long-term per capita visitation measures of nature recreation peaked between 1981 and 1991," they told nature.org. "They've declined about 1.2 percent per year since then, and have declined a total of between 18 percent and 25 percent."

For example, The Associated Press reported that fishing peaked in 1981 and had declined 25 percent by 2005, the researchers found. Visits to national parks peaked in 1987 and dropped 23 percent by 2006, while hiking on the Appalachian Trial peaked in 2000 and was down 18 percent by 2005.

Their findings indicate that hunting, fishing and camping all declined during this period, while hiking and backpacking went up. But they noted that this is the result of a very small countertrend.

"The average person went from hiking once every 12½ years to hiking once every 10 years," they wrote. "On the other hand, the average U.S. person visits a state park two or three times every single year. The large decreases in more popular activities like state park visits far outweigh the small increase in hiking."

Pergams and Zaradic said that they see this trend as one that the international community will most likely follow.

"It seems clear that major industrialized countries are moving towards videophilia," they wrote. "As the most videophilic societies, the United States along with Japan may be the first to experience its consequences "” but it's likely that other nations are not far behind."

"We are clear that without addressing this issue, we have little hope of addressing other global issues. If people stop caring about nature, that would be the greatest environmental threat of all."


On the Net:

Pergams and Zaradic Q&A

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences