Environmental impassivity: Blunted emotionality undermines concern for the environment

The average American believes in climate change, worries about it, and supports related policy, but there are still considerable differences—across individuals and with political ideology—that limit the ability to foster change. Researchers and practitioners often increase concern and action for others through feelings of empathy, which also increases pro-environmentalism. However, some people appear less emotionally impacted by environmental destruction—particularly more ideologically conservative and less pro-environmental individuals. To determine why some people appear to be impassive to environmental destruction, we conducted 3 online studies to measure beliefs and emotional processes in political liberals versus conservatives. Across 3 studies, we replicated the link between impassivity and conservatism, and found that more impassive people acknowledge our negative impact on the environment but are less concerned about it and more confident in an eventual solution. Impassivity, however, is not specific to the environment. People who are more impassive about the environment also respond less emotionally to positive and negative images that are unrelated to the environment, including human suffering and hedonic reward. They also report reduced trait empathy, perspective taking, and daily emotional expression and experience. Impassivity is not linked to differences in trait personal distress, anxiety, psychopathy (apart from low empathy), or trouble appreciating consequences. Impassivity is not associated with deficits in processing others’ facial emotion during early perceptual decoding but is associated with the later suppression of emotion. Everyone will not respond to emotional appeals to help a distressed environment. Other strategies are recommended to reach a broad audience. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)