Nav: Home

Researchers explore psychological effects of climate change

January 17, 2018

Wildfires, extreme storms and major weather events can seem like a distant threat, but for those whose lives have been directly impacted by these events, the threat hits much closer to home.

As reports of such incidents continue to rise, researchers at the University of Arizona set out to learn more about how people's perception of the threat of global climate change affects their mental health. They found that while some people have little anxiety about the Earth's changing climate, others are experiencing high levels of stress, and even depression, based on their perception of the threat of global climate change.

While significant research has explored the environmental impacts of climate change, far fewer studies have considered its psychological effect on humans, said UA researcher Sabrina Helm, an associate professor of family and consumer science in the UA's Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Helm and her colleagues found that psychological responses to climate change seem to vary based on what type of concern people show for the environment, with those highly concerned about the planet's animals and plants experiencing the most stress.

The researchers outline in a new study, which appears in the journal Global Environmental Change, three distinct types of environmental concern: Egoistic concern is concern about how what's happening in the environment directly impacts the individual; for example, a person might worry about how air pollution will affect their own lungs and breathing. Altruistic concern refers to concern for humanity in general, including future generations. Biospheric concern refers to concern for nature, plants and animals.

In an online survey of 342 parents of young children, those who reported high levels of biospheric concern also reported feeling the most stressed about global climate change, while those whose concerns were more egoistic or altruistic did not report significant stress related to the phenomenon.

In addition, those with high levels of biospheric concern were most likely to report signs of depression, while no link to depression was found for the other two groups.

"People who worry about animals and nature tend to have a more planetary outlook and think of bigger picture issues," Helm said. "For them, the global phenomenon of climate change very clearly affects these bigger picture environmental things, so they have the most pronounced worry, because they already see it everywhere. We already talk about extinction of species and know it's happening. For people who are predominantly altruistically concerned or egoistically concerned about their own health, or maybe their own financial future, climate change does not hit home yet."

Those with high levels of biospheric concern also were most likely to engage in pro-environmental day-to-day behaviors, such as recycling or energy savings measures, and were the most likely to engage in coping mechanisms to deal with environmental stress, ranging from denying one's individual role in climate change to seeking more information on the issue and how to help mitigate it.

Although not generally stressed about climate change, those with high levels of altruistic concern, or concern for the well-being of others, also engaged in some environmental coping strategies and pro-environmental behaviors -- more so than those whose environmental concerns were mostly egoistic.

"Climate change is a persistent global stressor, but the consequences of it appear to be slowly evolving; they're fairly certain to happen -- we know that, now -- but the impact on individuals seems to be growing really slowly and needs to be taken very seriously," said Helm, whose co-authors include UA Norton School researchers Melissa Barnett, Melissa Curran and Zelieann Craig, along with UA alumna Amanda Pollitt.

The research, Helm said, has important public health implications.

"Climate change has evident physical and mental health effects if you look at certain outcomes, such as the hurricanes we had last year, but we also need to pay very close attention to the mental health of people in everyday life, as we can see this, potentially, as a creeping development," Helm said. "Understanding that there are differences in how people are motivated is very important for finding ways to address this, whether in the form of intervention or prevention."
-end-


University of Arizona

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#514 Arctic Energy (Rebroadcast)
This week we're looking at how alternative energy works in the arctic. We speak to Louie Azzolini and Linda Todd from the Arctic Energy Alliance, a non-profit helping communities reduce their energy usage and transition to more affordable and sustainable forms of energy. And the lessons they're learning along the way can help those of us further south.