Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Griffin, Robert J.

Second Advisor

Chattopadhyay, Sumana

Third Advisor

Wolburg, Joyce M.


Direct contact with wild nature is becoming harder for people to access in present times, yet research suggests that experiencing nature is important to the formation of environmental values, which may lead to conservation behaviors. My thesis experiment theorizes that direct contact with nature has the ability to impact people's behavioral beliefs and intentions toward the environment, applying Icek Ajzen's Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) and the New Ecological Paradigm Scale as measures. A questionnaire was administered post-whale watching trips in Juneau, Alaska to determine whether whales, direct experience with charismatic megafauna, could stimulate positive attitudes and behaviors toward recycling. The proposed study fills in gaps of previous research by adding a communication variable, in addition to the whales experienced, and measuring its effect with the questionnaire. This communication message expressed the link between people's recycling behaviors and whales well-being. The study utilized participants' intensity of experience with a whale as a second independent variable, and this whale acts as a proposed symbol for the environment at large. Recycling was chosen as the targeted behavior for this study, but the behavior is meant to represent positive behaviors toward the environment on a grander scale. This thesis research is intended to be a case study of whether nature, and human-mediated communication about it, can stimulate positive behaviors toward the environment. The study's results affirmed positive TPB correlations, providing further support for the TPB model when applied to environmentally friendly behavioral intentions. Overall participants reported high ecological values, but questionnaire responses indicated that level of intensity of nature experience, and a human- mediated communication message, had little to no significant effect on reported behavioral intentions toward recycling, negating what had been hypothesized. More research is needed to further comprehend the interactions between experience in nature, human-mediated communication, and TPB.