Group Processes Intergr. Relations http://doi.org/cg4j (2017)
Climate change presents multiple threats to human health and wellbeing via impacts on extreme weather events, agriculture, and pathogen prevalence. Information about the nature and scope of these negative consequences has been used to try to convince people of the urgent need for direct action. However, such threatening information may instead induce more symbolic defensive behaviours, such as ethnocentrism or nationalism, which reduce existential anxiety.
Isabella Uhl and colleagues from the University of Salzburg and the University of Groningen conducted an experiment in Austria and Argentina, two countries where the majority of the population believe that climate change is an important problem that must be acted on. Austrian but not Argentinian participants exposed to threatening information about climate change reported lower intention to engage in pro-environmental behaviours and scored higher on a measure of ethnocentrism than participants presented with neutral information about the Earth. These effects were mediated by affect, which was more negative following exposure to threatening information. These results suggest information about the threat of climate change triggers symbolic rather than direct defences, particularly in individualist (versus collectivist) cultures.
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Richler, J. Ethnocentrism as a defence. Nature Clim Change 8, 13 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-017-0047-z