Affective and Moral Roots of Environmental Stewardship: The Role of Obligation, Gratitude and Compassion
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Environmental issues such as climate change and habitat loss pose significant challenges to existing political, legal and financial institutions. As these challenges have become clearer in recent years, interest in understanding the psychological, cultural and moral motivators of environmental stewardship has grown. Recent research within the social sciences--particularly psychology, sociology and communications--has revealed numerous intra- and interpersonal processes and mechanisms that shape whether, how and to what extent individuals and communities engage with the environmental problems they face. In this dissertation, I integrate research from these and other fields to examine the role that affect, identity and morality play in driving individual-level concern about and response to environmental challenges. Across three chapters (which present results from eight empirical studies), I attempt to answer a series of core research questions, including: (1) What is the role of affect in motivating active engagement with environmental issues? (2) What factors shape recognition of problems such as climate change as morally relevant? (3) What can we learn by studying the interaction of affect and morality in the context of environmental conservation? (4) What are the limits of the affective and moral judgment systems in motivating environmental concern and action? In Chapter II (`Is climate change an ethical issue?'), I show that relatively few people identify climate change as a moral issue, that such perceptions are shaped in part by individuals' beliefs about the causes of the problem, and that perceived moral obligation predicts behavioral intentions. In Chapter III (`Who cares about the future?'), I further examine the affective roots of environmental moral beliefs and demonstrate that feelings of gratitude towards past generations enhance individuals' perceptions of responsibility towards future generations. Finally, in Chapter IV (`Are pandas like people?'), I find limits to the role of affect in motivating beneficent action on behalf of non-human others. Together, these three chapters provide novel and actionable insights into some of the factors that shape individual-level environmental stewardship. This dissertation includes both previously published sole-authored (Chapter II) and unpublished co-authored (Chapter IV) material.