There is a scientific consensus that manmade climate change is occurring
There is a scientific consensus that manmade climate change is occurring (Cook, Oreskes, Doran, Anderegg, Verheggen, Maibach & Rice, 2016). Among the people of Britain, there exists a considerable public acknowledgement of this occurrence, yet support for the means of addressing it is not particularly forthcoming (Fisher, Fitzgerald & Poortinga, 2018). Perhaps unsurprisingly, experience of events perceived to be related to climate change increase concern (Akerlof, Maibach, Fitzgerald, Cedeno & Neuman, 2013) over the issue, as well as policy support (Milfont, Evans, Sibley, Ries, Cunningham, 2014), and the belief that climate change is manmade (Hamilton & Stampone, 2013). Despite these encouraging findings, it is imperative to change attitudes and behaviour before the onset of increasingly perceptible climate change effects, which due to the inertia of the climate change system are projected to become manifest within several decades (Brügger, Morton & Dessai, 2016). One potential explanation for the relative indifference of many people towards tackling climate change is that its effects are psychologically distant phenomena (Liberman & Trope, 2008; Milfont, 2010; O’Neill ; Nicholson-Cole, 2009). For example, Leiserowitz (2006) found individuals tend to perceive climate change as affecting strangers remote in space and time. The naturally following hypothesis is that making climate change a more immediate issue will prompt pro-environmental behaviour (Lorenzoni ; Pidgeon, 2006). Certainly, this proposition seems intuitively appealing.
Construal Level Theory (Liberman, Trope, ; Stephan, 2007) proposes four dimensions of psychological distance: Spatial distance (where geographically distant locations are perceived more distant); Temporal distance (where past or future events are perceived as more distant); Social distance (where dissimilar people are perceived as more distant); and Hypothetical distance (where improbable events are perceived as more distant). Whereas several studies investigating the effect of reducing psychological proximity perceptions along these dimensions show positive effects for climate change behaviour (e.g. Singh, Zwickle, Bruskotter ; Wilson, 2017; Spence, Poortinga ; Pidgeon, 2012; Stanley, Millin, Mickleson ; Milfont, 2018), a considerable number of studies present evidence to the contrary (Brügger, Morton ; Dessai, 2016; Schoenefeld ; McCauley, 2015; Shwom, Dan ; Dietz, 2008; Spence ; Pidgeon, 2010).
Given the mixed findings for the effect of psychological distance on positive climate change behaviours, a call for further research to hasten a reconciliation within the literature is a proposed, but solely insufficient justification for the present study. A considerable number of studies investigating psychological distance operationalise and measure its theoretical constituents (i.e. spatial, temporal, social, and hypothetical perceptions) alongside, for example, climate change mitigation intentions and support for climate change policy (e.g. Brügger et al., 2016; Singh et al., 2017; Stanley et al., 2018). Being mindful of research supporting the influence of psychological distance on climate change behaviours (e.g. Jones, Hine ; Marks, 2017), the present study seeks to digress from such methodological canon by instead embedding the aforementioned constituents into a frame of climate change presentation intended to induce perceptions of psychological distance/proximity within individuals, rather than measuring preconceived idiosyncratic notions of it. To the best knowledge of the student, although research of a similar vein exists (e.g. for manipulations of temporal and spatial distance, see Rickard, Yang, Schuldt, 2016) it has not been pursued in earnest.
Through the application of this relatively novel manipulation, the present research aims to determine how psychological distance framing differentially influences individual and collective pro-environmental behavioural intentions within UK citizens. In consideration of the recently emerging literature documenting the positive influence of psychological distance on climate change behavioural intentions, the present study pursued the following hypothesis:
H1: There will be significant differences in individual and collective behavioural intentions between psychologically distal and psychologically proximal frames.