New research links emotions with intention to take climate action

November 15, 2021

Recent research at Indiana University has found that emotions can play a key role in promoting one’s intentions to take climate action.

“Rather than looking at climate change in general, we wanted to be more specific and ask when you think about taking action how do you feel? And how does that relate to taking action,” Nathaniel Geiger, IU assistant professor of communication science, told Indiana Environmental Reporter.

The research examined the extent to which four emotional anticipatory reactions arise when thinking about participating in climate action.

“It looked at the relationship between how people feel about taking climate action and acting with other people — whether it’s people talking about it or acting on it,” he said. “Does it make you feel bored, anxious, hopeful or helpless?”

Research found that hope strongly predicted greater intentions to act, and boredom moderately predicted lesser intentions to act. It also found that anxiety and helplessness did not have strong predictive power.

“If you feel hopeful when thinking about taking action, you’re going to be way more likely to take action than people who feel less hopeful,” Geiger said. “The more bored a person is the less willing a person is to take action. Feeling anxious and feeling helpless, those didn’t really seem to matter.”

This is an emerging field of research that combines communications, behavioral science and psychology. Previous research has examined how people feel about climate change, but this research involved more specific thinking.

“It’s important to do more work on this, especially regarding hope and action. Are people feeling hopeful about the current state of the climate and not wanting to take action or are people feeling hopeful about their action making a change? Feeling hopeful could motivate or demotivate. This survey didn’t explicitly resolve this dilemma.”

New research links emotions with intention to take climate action