Speak up for Change? Understanding the Social Costs and Benefits of Confronting Environmental Disregard.
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
In the face of stagnation in efforts to tackle the global increase of greenhouse gas emissions, there is a great need to broaden our understanding of normative processes that maintain and change social norms in relation to environmentally (un)sustainable lifestyles. My research aims to address this gap in the literature by examining the normative processes associated with climate change. More specifically I focused on identifying the interpersonal costs and wider benefits (in terms of social change) associated with the interpersonal confrontation of environmental disregard. Firstly, to establish a meaningful point of comparison for subsequent studies, I compared the normative status of environmental disregard and racial prejudice (Studies 1 & 2). I then moved on to examining perceptions and consequences of interpersonal confrontation of environmental disregard over the course of six studies by placing participants in the position of an observer of an interaction in which the confrontation occurred. The results consistently identified high social costs (reduced feelings of closeness and warmth) associated with confronting environmental disregard (but not racism). The costs of confronting environmental disregard were partly determined by the morality of the issue, the appropriateness of the confrontation, the pre-existing attitude of the observer and the justification used by the confronter for their reaction. My studies also tested different strategies to reduce the social costs for the confronter (such as invoking morality in different ways) and also assessed the consequences of confrontation for changes in perceptions of social norms, climate change attitudes and behavioural tendencies amongst those bearing witness. In relation to the consequences for behavioural tendencies resulting from interpersonal confrontation, the findings suggest that confrontation of environmental disregard encourages pro-environmental action tendencies if a scientific justification for the confrontation is provided. The final chapter of the thesis explores the theoretical and practical implications of these findings in relation to engendering processes of social change.
University of Exeter
PhD in Psychology