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People who lack empathy for their environment are also generally less emotional

To summarize: People who showed less empathy and emotion to images of environmental disasters were generally less empathetic and emotional.

resource: University of Michigan

People who have less emotional responses to images of environmental damage are also less emotional and empathetic overall, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Differences in political ideology may limit policy adjustments to address climate change. Researchers and practitioners often draw attention by drawing empathy from people.

However, research shows that some people seem to be emotionally less affected by environmental damage—especially those who are more ideologically conservative and less pro-environmental.

In a series of online experiments in the United States, UM graduate student Logan Bickel and psychology professor Stephanie Preston studied the emotional responses of more than 600 people in various settings.

People aren’t saddened by other images when looking at photos of environmental damage, such as an oil spill in a bay, including crying babies, officers in distress, injured athletes, wounded soldiers, and even moldy food.

Consistent with the lack of contagious suffering, more “apathetic” people reported a lack of empathy for people in their everyday lives, as well as reduced support for the environment and a sense of awe for nature. Research shows that this group also responds less to positive images such as happy babies, ice cream and piles of money.

People aren’t saddened by other images when looking at photos of environmental damage, such as an oil spill in a bay, including crying babies, officers in distress, injured athletes, wounded soldiers, and even moldy food.Image is in the public domain

The study’s findings suggest that some people’s lack of attention to the environment may not be particularly political or reflect a specific disinterest in the environment. It’s a feature of their broader emotional palette, Preston says.

“Given that our risk awareness and decision-making are strongly guided by emotion, the more apathetic are less willing to devote resources to this slow-moving crisis,” she said.

Logan said calls to help the environment must take into account the changing makeup of people’s emotions and devise new strategies for those who don’t believe in emotional appeals.

About this emotion and empathy research news

author: Morgan Sherborne
resource: University of Michigan
touch: Morgan Sherburne – University of Michigan
picture: Image is in the public domain

Original research: closed access.
“Environmental Apathy: Sluggish Emotions Undermine Environmental Concern”, Logan A. Bickel et al. emotion

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Abstract

Environmental Apathy: A dull mood destroys attention to the environment

Ordinary Americans believe in climate change, are concerned about it and support related policies, but there are still considerable differences between individuals and political ideologies that limit the ability to promote change. Empathy is often used by researchers and practitioners to increase attention and action toward others, which also increases environmentalism. However, some people seem to be less emotionally affected by environmental damage—especially those who are more ideologically conservative and less pro-environmental.

To determine why some people seem to be indifferent to environmental damage, we conducted 3 online studies to measure the belief and emotional processes of political liberals versus conservatives. In 3 studies, we replicated the link between apathy and conservatism and found that more apathetic people acknowledged our negative impact on the environment, but were less concerned about it and more confident in the final solution. Apathy, however, is not specific to the environment.

People who were more apathetic to their environment also had less emotional responses to positive and negative images that were unrelated to their environment, including human pain and hedonic rewards. They also reported reductions in trait empathy, perspective taking, and everyday emotional expression and experience. Apathy was not associated with differences in trait personal distress, anxiety, psychosis (other than low empathy), or difficulty understanding consequences. Apathy was not associated with deficits in processing other people’s facial emotions during early perceptual decoding, but was associated with later emotional suppression.

Everyone does not respond to emotional appeals to help a troubled situation. Other strategies are recommended to reach a broad audience.

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