Using Psychological Distance to Change Environment Attitudes
The climate crisis looms as one of the greatest challenges of our time and has the potential to threaten the wellbeing of millions around the globe. Despite this, climate change remains an abstract threat for many people in the U.S., with concrete effects seeming distant or unlikely to have personal consequences. This perception of climate change as psychologically distant can contribute to apathy and a lack of action on climate change. Thus, reducing the psychological distance of climate change may be a critical step towards inspiring people to make lifestyle changes that will mitigate the impacts of climate change. Indeed, past research on the psychological distance of climate change has found that lower psychological distance is associated with greater concern for the environment and stronger intentions to engage in mitigation behavior.
This study investigates the effect of a psychological distance manipulation which frames climate change as either beginning outside or within participant’s lifetimes. While previous studies have found that reducing the psychological distance of future climate change can influence environmental attitudes, this study tests the effect of a potential technique for framing historic climate change with high and low psychological distance. This was tested via an online survey distributed to a sample of Penn undergraduates. The effect of this manipulation was measured on the environmental attitudes of concern for climate change and support for climate change mitigation. Results indicate that the manipulation used in this study was not effective at reducing the psychological distance of climate change. Additionally, this study replicates past research by finding that lower perceived psychological distance of climate change is associated with greater concern and stronger mitigation intention. These findings highlight the value of intelligent risk communication strategies that reduce the psychological distance of climate change for changing environmental attitudes.