Helpful Abstraction, Barrier to Urgency, or Both? A Critical Examination of the Effects of Psychological Distance on Climate Change Perception

PhD Student: Anna Keller
Supervisory Team: Dr John Marsh, Dr Beth Richardson & Professor Linden Ball

Overview of PhD Project  

The most recent report by scientists on the climate emergency is clear: climate change is here and now, it is bad, but it is not too late to mitigate its worst effects. Yet, governments and individuals are currently failing to realise the systemic change that is required to stop further harm to people and nature all over the world. Why is that? One of the barriers to climate change action is often thought to be that of psychological distance. It relates to a notion familiar to many of us, that at least some aspects of climate change feel far away and are difficult to prioritise in everyday decision-making. Consequently, it is often recommended to move climate change psychologically closer to people (known also as proximising) to promote pro-environmental behaviour. However, recent research has documented inconsistent methodologies and findings, indicating that psychological distance may be more complex than research often assumes, applying to many different aspects of climate change. In my PhD project, I am taking a systematic approach towards describing, analysing and developing knowledge around the role of distance in climate change cognition and action. Based on an accurate description of the field, including its methods as well as findings, I am aiming to identify fruitful ways to further engage with research around distance in a way that develops theory but also produces actionable knowledge for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

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