Exploring and defining the psychological impact of the climate emergency

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Psychology

Abstract

The central aim of this project is to advance our understanding of the psychological burden associated with climate change (sometimes termed 'eco-anxiety'). This is focused on the following specific objectives:

To deepen our understanding of how eco-anxiety is experienced in people's daily lives, and whether this term is an accurate description of the lived experience of the psychological burden of climate change, including testing a new measure of eco-anxiety.

To assess how eco-anxiety is distinct from other psychological traits and mental health problems.

To explore how eco-anxiety relates to pro-environmental behaviours and sustainability

To investigate the relationships between eco-anxiety, distress and positive factors (coping styles, mindfulness, gratitude, compassion).

To conduct a 'proof-of-concept' lab-based experimental study investigating the impact of an experimental manipulation of positive factors (e.g. mindfulness, gratitude) upon eco-anxiety and pro-environmental behaviours

The terms 'eco-anxiety' (and the related concept 'ecological grief') are increasingly used in mainstream conversations, however, academic research exploring these concepts is severely limited. Edwards (2008) argues that the media position 'eco-anxiety' as an irrational fear, placing it within the realm of an 'anxiety disorder', rather than a rational and healthy response involving concern about the pressing climate emergency. This response is both natural but challenging, and such feelings must be acknowledged and processed so that the individual can mobilise and engage in more constructive responses (Edwards, 2008). Without doing this, it is possible that the emotional reactions will be so overwhelming that adaptive behaviours that both support the individual's wellbeing and enhance environmental sustainability will be difficult to achieve.

As the climate emergency grows, so too will awareness of the threat, resulting in a "pandemic of personal, spiritual and psychological crises" (Edwards, 2008). It is critical to develop a better understanding of the emotional and psychological reactions people already report and will continue to develop as conditions worsen. Such research will improve the abilities of communities and professionals to address growing levels of distress.

There is evidence that experiences of anxiety or grief can lead to action through transformation. One example is Active Hope (Macy & Johnstone, 2012), an intervention that aims to increase mindfulness, gratitude and compassion and community support to help people manage difficult emotions about the climate emergency, whilst promoting pro-environmental behaviour change.

The study will take 3 years to complete:

1st year for Study 1, will test the psychometrics of a new measure of eco-anxiety (currently under development) including Confirmatory Factor Analysis.

2nd year for Study 2 will disseminate this validated measure to a general, UK-wide adult population along with various standardised, validated measures of relevant psychological constructs (e.g. depression, anxiety, beliefs, wellbeing, mindfulness, gratitude), environmental concern and pro-environmental behaviours. Multiple regression analyses will be used to assess relationships between these constructs.

3rd year for Study 3, whereby those positive psychological concepts showing relationships with ecoanxiety and ecological grief will be tested in a proof-of-concept lab-based experimental study assessing whether cultivation of a specific construct (e.g. gratitude) affects levels of ecoanxiety and ecological grief and pro-environmental behaviour.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2381382 Studentship ES/P000630/1 28/09/2020 27/09/2024 Sian Duncan