Is love of nature in the US becoming love of electronic media? 16-year downtrend in national park visits explained by watching movies, playing video games, internet use, and oil prices

J Environ Manage. 2006 Sep;80(4):387-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2006.02.001. Epub 2006 Mar 30.


After 50 years of steady increase, per capita visits to US national parks have declined since 1988. This decline, coincident with the rise in electronic entertainment media, may represent a shift in recreation choices with broader implications for the value placed on biodiversity conservation and environmentally responsible behavior. We compared the decline in per capita visits with a set of indicators representing alternate recreation choices and constraints. The Spearman correlation analyses found this decline in NPV to be significantly negatively correlated with several electronic entertainment indicators: hours of television, (rs=-0.743, P<0.001), video games (rs=-0.773, P<0.001), home movies (rs=-0.788, P<0.001), theatre attendance (rs=-0.587, P<0.025) and internet use (rs=-0.783, P<0.001). There were also significant negative correlations with oil prices (rs=-0.547, P<0.025), foreign travel (rs=-0.452, P<0.05), and Appalachian Trail hikers (rs=-0.785, P<0.001). Income was significantly positively correlated with foreign travel (rs=0.621, P<0.005) but negatively correlated with national park visits (rs=-0.697, P<0.005). There was no significant correlation of mean number of vacation days, indicating available vacation time is probably not a factor. Federal funding actually increased during this period, and so was rejected as a probable factor. Park capacity was rejected as limiting since both total overnight stays and visits at the seven most popular parks rose well into the mid-1990s. Aging of baby boomers was also rejected as they are only now reaching retirement age, and thus during the period of visitation decline were still of prime family vacation age. Multiple linear regression of four of the entertainment media variables as well as oil prices explains 97.5% of this recent decline (r=0.975, multiple r2=0.950, adjusted multiple r2=0.925, SE=0.015, F=37.800, P<0.0001). We may be seeing evidence of a fundamental shift away from people's appreciation of nature (biophilia, Wilson 1984) to 'videophilia,' which we here define as "the new human tendency to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media." Such a shift would not bode well for the future of biodiversity conservation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ecology
  • Ecosystem
  • Electronics*
  • Fuel Oils / economics*
  • Internet*
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Motion Pictures*
  • Nature*
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • Video Games*


  • Fuel Oils