People with a more anxious disposition tend to be more willing to engage in actions intended to mitigate the impacts of climate change, according to new research published in Personality and Individual Differences. The new findings shed light on the relationships between personality traits, environmental attitudes, and climate change action.
“Our lab has been interested in understanding the drivers of and barriers to climate mitigation at the individual level for several years now,” said study author Gary J. Pickering, a professor of biological sciences and psychology at Brock University.
“Basically, given the climate crisis we are facing, why is it that as individuals most of us do not engage fully in the behaviours that can make a real difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? One potential factor that has not been well investigated is the role of personality, and even less the HEXACO Personality Inventory as a tool for measuring personality traits.”
A total of 336 participants (183 females, 116 males, and 37 undisclosed) completed an online questionnaire that assessed basic demographics, personality traits, environmental values, and whether they had taken action to reduce the impact of climate change.
Results showed that approximately 81% of participants had changed their actions, at least in part, due to climate change considerations over the past year. Approximately 16% of the sample indicated that climate change had a relatively minor influence on their actions, while 37% indicated that it was a major factor.
However, political affiliation was found to be associated with climate change action, with individuals who identified as conservatives indicating that climate change considerations had less of an influence on their actions than all other political groups.
Environmental values also differed as a function of political affiliation, with individuals who identified as conservatives having significantly lower pro-environmental values than all other political groups. Additionally, males and individuals with lower trait anxiety reported lower environmental values. Those with low environmental values strongly agreed with statements such as “Humans have the right to modify the natural environment to suit their needs” and strongly disagreed with statements such as “The balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset.”
The study also found that certain personality traits were correlated with environmental values and climate change actions.
In terms of environmental values, individuals who scored high in “greed avoidance” (a sub-facet of honesty-humility), “anxiety” and “sentimentality” (sub-facets of emotionality), “diligence,” “perfectionism,” and “prudence” (sub-facets of conscientiousness), as well as “aesthetic appreciation” and “unconventionality” (sub-facets of openness to experience) were more likely to have high environmental value scores.
In terms of climate change actions, individuals who scored high in “greed avoidance,” “anxiety,” “sentimentality,” “aesthetic appreciation,” and “unconventionality,” as well as “inquisitiveness” (a sub-facet of openness to experience), and “social boldness” and “sociability” (sub-facets of extraversion) were more likely to engage in environmentally-friendly actions.
The results suggest that people with these personality traits are more likely to hold pro-environmental values and take action to protect the environment.
“Environmental values are important because they strongly influence how active we will be in our everyday lives in choosing behaviors that can limit the impacts of climate change,” Pickering told PsyPost. “The environmental values we hold are affected by many factors, including several facets of our personality, such as honesty-humility, emotionality, conscientiousness, and openness to experience.”
Gender, political affiliation, and anxiety were the strongest predictors of environmental values, while anxiety, inquisitiveness, and sociability were the strongest predictors of whether people took action on climate change. Additionally, a moderated regression analysis revealed that individuals who were both high in pro-environmental values and in trait anxiety were more likely to change their actions in the face of climate change.
“I don’t think we were expecting that trait anxiety would be associated with both environmental values and climate change action, and that it would also moderate that relationship,” Pickering said. “While perhaps not surprising, it’s noteworthy that political association and gender also predicted environmental values: both conservatives and males have lower pro-environmental values in this Canadian sample.”
The study provides important evidence that trait anxiety plays a role in pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors. But like all research, the study includes some limitations. The measure of pro-environmental action consisted of a single item and relied on self-report, so future studies could explore how actual behaviors are affected by personality differences in a more controlled experiment.
“Further work needs to measure climate action in a more multi-dimensional manner, perhaps looking at how specific behaviors (e.g., air travel, energy consumption, sustainable food purchase decisions) link with personality features,” Pickering explained. “Our work provides some preliminary insights into how interventions – including messaging – might be tailored for encouraging individual engagement in climate mitigation behaviors, and further research along these lines would be timely and welcome.”
“The work of Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr. Gillian Dale was pivotal in completing this research, and I’d like to acknowledge that and sincerely thank her,” Pickering added.
The study, “Trait anxiety predicts pro-environmental values and climate change action“, was published online on February 1, 2023.