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Young people’s distancing strategies concerning climate change: Relations to engagement, communication patterns, gender, and worry
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Department of Education. JPS, Örebro Universitet.
2016 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Young people are one important group to include in the efforts to combat climate change (CC). Youths are the future leaders of society and they will be the ones handling the future negative consequences of this problem. This group is also relatively easy to reach with information, since many are part of the educational system. Still, studies about young people and CC are rare. The present study focuses on Swedish late adolescents (n=624; mean age=18) and their coping and engagement concerning CC. The study takes its starting point in the psychologically distant character of CC and the fact that this could impede engagement. A common suggested solution to this predicament is to make CC more visible and concrete. Studies also show that when people are confronted with CC through media or through CC-education they become more concerned and worried. This worry could lead to more engagement, but could also lead to disengagement and a low sense of efficacy. Applying the transactional theory of coping, this study argues that young people are not just passively taking in information about CC, but are actively dealing with this problem. In addition, how they are coping could have relations to felt efficacy in dealing with the problem and to engagement. The focus in this study is on how young people actively are distancing themselves from CC. Research has found that some youths deny that CC is as serious as researchers claim or argue that the negative consequence will only be visible in the future or among people living in faraway places. These ways of de-emphasizing the threat is more common among boys, is negatively related to worry, knowledge, efficacy, and engagement, while being positively related to negative communication patterns with peers and parents. However, besides to directly distance themselves from the problem, people can also distance themselves from negative emotions felt. How this emotion-focused distancing strategy relates to engagement among young people has, however, not been investigated before. The aim of the present study is to explore how distancing strategies concerning CC among adolescents relate to environmental efficacy, pro-environmental behavior, CC-worry, and communication patterns with parents and peers. Possible gender differences will also be in focus. Senior high-school students answered a questionnaire in the classroom during school hours. Statistical analyses showed that distancing was more common among girls (as was also the case in two pilot studies), was negatively related to felt efficacy and was positively related to CC-worry and to negative communication patterns with parents and peers. Distancing, however, had no relation to pro-environmental behavior. In a regression analysis the most important predictors of distancing were negative communication with fathers and CC-worry. A mediation analysis showed that the gender difference in distancing was explained by the fact that girls worried more about CC than boys. Results are discussed in relation to the transactional coping theory, the theory of affective intelligence, and gender theories. Practical implications for CC-education are elaborated upon.

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URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-280641OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-280641DiVA: diva2:911510
24th IAPS Conference, Lund University, Lund, Sweden, June 28- July 1. Part of symposium: Young people and climate change engagement (Chairs: Maria Ojala, Uppsala University & Cecilia Bergstad, University of Gothenburg)
Swedish Research Council Formas
Available from: 2016-03-12 Created: 2016-03-12 Last updated: 2016-03-12

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