People Who Have a Lack of Compassion for The Environment Also Tend to Have Less Emotion Overall

People Who Have a Lack of Compassion for The Environment Also Tend to Have Less Emotion Overall

According to a new study from the University of Michigan, people who show a less emotional response to images of environmental destruction are also less sympathetic and compassionate overall.

Policy shifts to address climate change can be hampered by ideological differences. The concern is commonly raised by researchers and practitioners appealing to people’s empathy.

However, the study found that those who identify as more politically conservative and less pro-environmental are the ones who seem to be less emotionally affected by environmental degradation.

More than 600 people’s emotional reactions were studied in a series of online studies conducted in the United States by psychology professor Stephanie Preston and University of Michigan graduate student Logan Bickel.


People who aren’t moved to compassion by images of environmental destruction, such as oil spills on fire in the gulf, are likewise unmoved by images of screaming babies, distressed police officers, injured athletes, wounded troops, or even rotten food.

People Who Have a Lack of Compassion for The Environment Also Tend to Have Less Emotion Overall

Persons who described themselves as “impassive” also reported lower levels of empathy for people they saw in daily life, as well as lower levels of environmental concern and awe in general. The study also found that this demographic reacted less favorably to upbeat visual cues like smiling babies, sweet treats, and wads of cash.

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.

Impassivity: Blunted Emotions Impair Environmental Concern.


The majority of Americans are concerned about climate change and back policies meant to address it, but there are still significant gaps between people and between political ideologies that hamper efforts to create change. Feelings of empathy are used by researchers and practitioners to inspire care and action for others, which in turn makes them more environmentally conscious. However, certain people, especially those who lean to the ideological right and are less pro-environment, seem less affected emotionally by environmental degradation.

People Who Have a Lack of Compassion for The Environment Also Tend to Have Less Emotion Overall

We conducted three online surveys comparing political liberals and conservatives in terms of their ideas and emotional responses to environmental degradation in an effort to better understand why some people seem oblivious to this issue. We replicated the association between conservatism and a lack of emotion in three investigations and found that those with a high level of impassivity recognize humanity’s detrimental impact on the environment but are less worried about it and more confident in a future solution. However, emotional distance has nothing to do with geography.

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Those who are environmentally indifferent are likewise less affected by images of happiness or pain that have nothing to do with the environment. They also report lower levels of trait empathy, perspective taking, and regular emotional expression and experience. There is no association between impassivity and differences in trait levels of personal distress, anxiety, psychopathy (other than low empathy), or difficulty comprehending consequences. Immaturity is not linked to difficulties in recognizing the feelings conveyed by others’ facial expressions at the time of initial perceptual decoding, rather it is linked to the suppression of emotion at a later time.

Emotional appeals to support a struggling environment won’t work for everyone. If you want to attract a sizable audience, you might consider switching tactics.

Stay tuned to enviro360 for more infotainment news.

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