Summary: People who show less empathy and affection for images of environmental disasters generally have less empathy and empathy.
source: University of Michigan
People who respond less emotionally to images of environmental damage are also less emotional and empathetic in general, according to a new study at the University of Michigan.
Differences in political ideology can limit policy adjustments that address climate change. Researchers and practitioners often raise concern by appealing to people’s sympathy.
However, the study showed that some people are less emotionally affected by environmental destruction – particularly those who are more ideologically conservative and less pro-environmental.
In a series of online experiments in the United States, Imperial University graduate student Logan Bickle and psychology professor Stephanie Preston examined the emotional responses of more than 600 people in a variety of contexts.
People who don’t care when viewing images of environmental damage – such as oil spilling on a fire in the bay – also didn’t feel bad about other images including crying children, doomed officers, injured athletes, wounded soldiers, and even rotting food.
Consistent with this lack of contagious distress, more “unmotivated” people said they felt less empathy for those in everyday life and were less pro-environmental and less dreaded by nature. The research showed that this group also responded less well to positive images such as happy children, ice cream and piles of money.
The results of the study suggest that some people’s lack of interest in the environment may not be particularly political or reflect a specific lack of interest in the environment. It is instead a feature of her broader emotional palette, Preston said.
“Given that our sense of risk and decisions are strongly guided by emotions, people who are more rigid are less inclined to dedicate resources to this slowly developing crisis,” she said.
Logan said pleas to help the environment must take into account the difference in people’s emotional make-up and devise new approaches for those who aren’t convinced by appeals to emotion.
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“Environmental inactivity: volatile emotionality undermines concern for the environmentWritten by Logan A. Bickel et al. feelings
Environmental inactivity: volatile emotionality undermines concern for the environment
The average American believes in climate change, worries, and supports relevant policies, but there are still significant differences – between individuals and political ideology – that limit the ability to promote change. Researchers and practitioners often increase concern for and action toward others through feelings of empathy, which also increases support for the environment. However, some people seem to be less emotionally affected by environmental destruction – especially individuals who are more ideologically conservative and less pro-environmental.
To determine why some people are indifferent to environmental destruction, we conducted 3 online studies measuring the beliefs and emotional processes of political liberals versus conservatives. Across 3 studies, we replicated the link between apathy and conservatism, and found that people who are more caring acknowledge our negative environmental impact but are less concerned about it and more confident in a definitive solution. However, indifference is not specific to the environment.
People who are indifferent to the environment also respond less emotionally to positive and negative images that have nothing to do with the environment, including human suffering and delicious reward. They also reported decreased empathy for traits, taking perspectives, expressiveness and everyday emotional experience. Lack of emotion is not associated with differences in trait, personal distress, anxiety, psychopathy (apart from poor empathy), or difficulty assessing consequences. Permeability is not associated with deficits in processing the facial emotions of others during early perceptual decoding but is related to later emotion suppression.
Not everyone will respond to emotional calls to help a stressed environment. Other strategies to reach a wide audience are recommended.