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Negative Emotions Weaken Climate Change Mitigation Behavior

Climate change education (CCE) is an environmental education program that connects scientific truths to advocacy, problem-solving abilities, and action competency. The effects of climate change impact all of humanity, but children and youngsters in underdeveloped nations are the ones who are most at risk from them. Therefore, there is a pressing need for effective CCE for teenagers.

Negative Emotions Weaken Mitigation Behaviour

Image Credit: Kastelic

Scientists from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences investigated how emotions of fear or hope affect curriculum-based CCE in a study published in Climatic Change. They created a curriculum emphasizing a factual understanding of climate change paired with a video clip intended to affect students’ emotions of fear or hope.

The scientists ran a two-week CCE program with video clips to elicit fear and hope to examine how emotions affect self-reported mitigation behavior toward climate change. They next contrasted the feelings of teenagers in the lecture-only and lecture-plus groups.

Around 1730 students from nine middle schools throughout three Chinese coastal cities — Xiamen, Shenzhen, and Ningbo — participated in the study.

The emotion-manipulating experiment revealed that while information may be the primary factor enhancing adolescents’ pro-environmental behavior, negative emotions may diminish mitigation actions. The lecture-only group specifically showed the most significant mitigating behavioral change among the three treatments.

Fear-based lecture treatment has been shown to reduce changes in self-reported mitigation behavior, especially among teens’ efforts to reduce emissions. Compared to the lecture-only groups, the hope plus lecture treatment did not significantly impact the reduction of behavioral change.

The study indicates that fear negatively impacts the mitigation of behavioral changes compared to the lecture-only group. Fear did not boost students’ involvement in climate change or increase their concern.

This brings new insight that highlights a more prudential consideration needed for bringing emotion into CCE among adolescents.

Jin Chen, Professor, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden

Journal Reference:

Wang, X. & Chen, J. (2022) Fear emotion reduces reported mitigation behavior in adolescents subject to climate change education. Climatic Change.


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