Lessons from the literature: Psychology, wellbeing and the environment
A contribution by the social issues team
Finding the space between denial and despair (Al Gore, in An Inconvenient Truth) is the psychological challenge facing us as we become more aware of the magnitude of climate change threat. Inevitably, this knowledge stimulates fear. Whilst appeals to fear make intuitive sense and are frequently used, social psychological research clearly demonstrates the complications involved in using fear as a strategy for behaviour change (Oskamp, 2000). People tend to repress or deny scary information, or become overwhelmed and immobilised. Some researchers even argue that appeals to fear risk backfiring, making the problem behaviour even more resistant to change (DeJong & Winsten, 1998).
Informing people about the negative implications of their behaviour on the environment, therefore, is only the first step towards change and needs to be followed by other means of influencing their behaviour, such as modelling appropriate skills, demonstrating the benefits of alternative behaviours, or promoting participation in community-based programs. Research by Leventhal, Meyer & Nerenz (1980) showed that appeals to fear are most likely to change people's behaviour under two conditions: 1) if people are aware of clear steps they can take to protect themselves; and 2) if these steps are conveniently available.
In the coming months, the APS will incorporate this knowledge into a tip sheet designed to help people to manage the strong feelings that accompany increasing awareness of environmental crises, choose appropriate ways of behaving, and find effective ways of communicating with others about environmental problems.
DeJong, W., & Winsten, J.A. (1998). The Media and the Message: Lessons Learned from Past Public Service Campaigns. Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Leventhal, H., Meyer, D., & Nerenz. (1980). The common sense representation of illness danger. Medical Psychology, 2, 7-30.
Oskamp, S. (2000). Psychological contributions to achieving an ecologically sustainable future for humanity. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 373-390.
December's tip for a sustainable future
Reduce or offset emissions from your air and car travel
In the last edition we looked at ways of reducing greenhouse emissions by purchasing green energy in homes. Travel, of course, is the other great polluter.