People Who Lack Compassion For The Environment Are Also Less Emotional In General

People who show less compassion and emotion toward images of environmental disasters are generally less empathetic and emotional overall. People who respond less emotionally to images of damage to the environment are also less emotional and empathic in general, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Differences in political ideology can limit policy adjustments that address climate change. Researchers and practitioners often raise concern by appealing to people’s empathy. However, some people appear less emotionally impacted by environmental destruction—particularly those who are more ideologically conservative and less pro-environmental, the study showed.

In a series of online experiments in the U.S., U-M graduate student Logan Bickel and psychology professor Stephanie Preston examined the emotional responses of more than 600 people in a variety of contexts. People not concerned when viewing pictures of damage to the environment—such as oil spills on fire in a gulf—also did not feel bad about other images including crying babies, officers in distress, injured athletes, wounded soldiers and even moldy food.

Consistent with this lack of contagious distress, more “impassive” people said that they felt less empathy for those in daily life and were less pro-environmental and less awed by nature. This group also responded less to positive images such as happy babies, ice cream and stacks of money, the research showed.

The study’s results suggest that some people’s lack of concern for the environment may not be particularly political or reflect a specific disinterest in the environment. It is instead a characteristic of their broader emotional palette, Preston said. “Given that our sense of risk and decisions are strongly guided by emotions, more impassive people are less inclined to dedicate resources to this slowly building crisis,” she said.

Appeals to help the environment must consider variation in people’s emotional make-up and devise new tactics for those who are unpersuaded by appeals to emotion, Logan said. The average American believes in climate change, worries about it, and supports related policy, but there are still considerable differences—across individuals and with political ideology—that limit the ability to foster change.

Researchers and practitioners often increase concern and action for others through feelings of empathy, which also increases pro-environmentalism. However, some people appear less emotionally impacted by environmental destruction—particularly more ideologically conservative and less pro-environmental individuals.

To determine why some people appear to be impassive to environmental destruction, we conducted 3 online studies to measure beliefs and emotional processes in political liberals versus conservatives. Across 3 studies, we replicated the link between impassivity and conservatism, and found that more impassive people acknowledge our negative impact on the environment but are less concerned about it and more confident in an eventual solution. Impassivity, however, is not specific to the environment.

People who are more impassive about the environment also respond less emotionally to positive and negative images that are unrelated to the environment, including human suffering and hedonic reward. They also report reduced trait empathy, perspective taking, and daily emotional expression and experience. Impassivity is not linked to differences in trait personal distress, anxiety, psychopathy (apart from low empathy), or trouble appreciating consequences.

Impassivity is not associated with deficits in processing others’ facial emotion during early perceptual decoding but is associated with the later suppression of emotion. Everyone will not respond to emotional appeals to help a distressed environment. Other strategies are recommended to reach a broad audience.

By: Morgan Sherburne

Source: People Who Lack Compassion for the Environment Are Also Less Emotional in General – Neuroscience News

Critics by Six Seconds

Empathy has been regarded by environmental thinkers as a key in conservation efforts. Nevertheless, systematic research on empathy toward nature, particularly from the personality perspective, has been lacking in psychology. The present research thus provides this needed investigation by testing four propositions regarding a new construct—dispositional empathy with nature (DEN), which refers to the dispositional tendency to understand and share the emotional experience of the natural world.

In five studies with 817 participants in total (including university students and working adults from two societies), DEN robustly and uniquely predicted conservation behavior (Proposition 1). Females, respondents who felt close to nature, and participants who considered nature to be sentient exhibited stronger DEN (Propositions 2–4). DEN was distinct from empathy with humans and a number of known determinants of conservation behavior (including personality traits, values, emotional involvement with nature, environmental concern, and social desirability bias).

Taken together, these findings highlight the possibility of developing a theory of empathy with nature by referring to the existing understanding about empathy with humans. The construct of DEN has much theoretical utility, as it sheds new light on several under-explored issues in conservation psychology (including the gender gap in environmentalism, the role of connection to nature, and the role of anthropomorphism), and bears practical implications for the promotion of environmentalism.

In addition, the newly developed scale for DEN is potentially useful for assessing the efficacy of environmental education programs. Other research studies have backed up the incredible research on greenery in urban environments. The results are clear: A lack of connection to nature results in crime and social breakdown. And conversely, efforts to greenify urban areas leads to better neighborly relations, more empathy, and less crime.

Police records confirm this anecdotal relationship between green space and social breakdown, providing an even more objective measure than the resident’s memories. Research from Columbia and Penn found that “cleaning and greening” vacant lots led to a 9% reduction in gun assaults. A 9% reduction in gun assaults! Greenery has also been linked to better long-term health outcomes – mentally and physically. Physically, greenery has been linked to less obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

Mentally, research in London found that a neighborhood’s greenery predicted how many medications related to mood disorders that the neighborhood pharmacy prescribed. Taken altogether, the findings suggest that connection to nature, Vitamin N, is an essential component of human health and wellbeing. Humans are incredibly adaptable, but we’re still deeply wired to our original habitat, the natural world. Should these findings change how we build our cities? Or within existing cities, where we choose to eat, work and spend free time?

While this research on making cities green is powerful and thought provoking, I found this research on nature’s effects on the individual level to be equally powerful, and even more actionable. You don’t have to become a farmer to reap the benefits of increased connection to nature. Research has found that even looking at nature through a window changes our brains and bodies on a cellular level.

“When you look out at a green landscape, even from indoors, your heart rate will go down,” explains Kuo, “and you’ll change from sympathetic nervous activity over to parasympathetic nervous activity, which is basically going from what we call ‘fight or flight’ into ‘tend and befriend’ mode. So it has these very systematic physiological impacts on us, which have long-term health outcomes associated with them.”…

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