Are we too Optimistic to bother Saving the Planet? The Relationship between Optimism, Eye Gaze and Negative Images of Climate Change

By Geoffrey Beattie and Laura McGuire.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This study represents the first investigation of the relationship between level of dispositional optimism and gaze preferences towards or away from negative images of climate change. It has been claimed by Isaacowitz that optimists wear ‘rose-tinted glasses’ in their processing of information about the world. This study tested whether level of optimism may be implicated in our current inertia with regard to climate change, and whether optimists quite literally refuse to see possible dangers. Participants’ eye gaze was tracked as they looked at stimulus arrays containing positive, negative or neutral images. The negative images were iconic representations of climate change/industrial pollution. The participants’ level of dispositional optimism was also assessed. The results were significant but in the opposite direction to that predicted by Isaacowitz’s research. The optimists gazed significantly more than the pessimists at the negative images, and significantly less at the positive images. There was also a significant correlation between level of optimism and proportion of time spent gazing at the negative images. These findings open up some intriguing possibilities. Could we, in fact, use optimism level, and the fact that optimists are more prepared to attend to climate change images, in the direct fight against climate change?

Keywords: Climate Change, Dispositional Optimism, Eye Tracking, Sustainability, Consumer Attitudes

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.241-256. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 947.352KB).

Prof. Geoffrey Beattie

Professor, School of Psychological Sciences and Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

Geoffrey Beattie is Head of the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester. He is also a Professorial Research Fellow at the Sustainable Consumption Institute recently established at the university. He obtained his PhD in Psychology from the University of Cambridge (Trinity College) and he is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS). He was awarded the Spearman Medal by the BPS for ‘published psychological research of outstanding merit’. In 2005 Geoffrey was President of the Psychology Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He has published 17 books many of which have either won or been short-listed for major international or national prizes and he has published more than a hundred academic articles in journals like Nature, Semiotica, the British Journal of Psychology and the Journal of Language and Social Psychology.

Laura McGuire

Research Assistant, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

Laura McGuire is a research assistant in the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester and a member of the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the university. Her main research focus involves using eye tacking methodology to investigate underlying attitudes towards climate change and sustainability. She is a member of a research team that is exploring how to measure (and then change) consumer attitudes towards products with different levels of carbon footprint.

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