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Hope and worry: exploring young people's values, emotions, and behavior regarding global environmental problems
Örebro University, Department of Behavioural, Social and Legal Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6613-5974
2007 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This dissertation explores young people’s engagement concerning global environmental problems. To be able to reverse these problems, it is vital to involve the public in the strivings for a sustainable society. However, environmental problems are complex, imbued with uncertainties and ambivalence. Furthermore, learning about global environmental threats can trigger unpleasant emotions. Some social theorists even claim that we live in a “culture of fear” where people’s worries about different risks are related to a low degree of social trust, low well-being, and egocentrism.

Therefore, the first aim was to take a critical approach to the view of emotions, and worry in particular, as being solely negative, or even irrational, states. First, a review of emotion theories focused on the constructive role of emotions. Second, self-report studies were conducted with two groups of young people. Worry about environmental problems was positively associated with other-oriented values of both an altruistic and biospheric kind, and with trust in one’s own and other actors’ ability to contribute to the solution of the problems. The young women worried more than the men. This was explained by the fact that they embraced altruistic values to a higher degree. Environmental worry, hence, was not the same as a low degree of trust, but seemed to be a moral emotion.

The second aim was to identify factors that can help young people deal constructively with their worry. In a group of late adolescents, environmental worry was negatively related to subjective well-being at a population level. However, there existed subgroups of young people who were highly worried: one high and one low on well-being. The first group experienced more existential meaning, as well as anger, hope, and trust concerning the environmental problems than the second group. Thereafter, interviews were performed with a group of young volunteers. They perceived their environmental worry both as a constructive force motivating behavior, and, when connected with feelings of guilt and helplessness, as related to psychological struggle. Sources of hope were pinpointed. These consisted of cognitive restructuring, trust in different societal actors, and trust in the efficacy of pro-environmental behavior at an individual level. Furthermore, the collective engagement worked as a coping strategy activating positive emotions.

The third aim was to explore how ambivalence at a macro and micro-level is related to recycling. In a group of young adults, mixed negative (worry) and positive (hope and joy) emotions about the environmental problems were positively related to recycling. Ambivalent attitudes about recycling, on the contrary, were negatively related to behavior. Interviews revealed that the ambivalence at a macro level was associated with an ability to face the ambiguities of environmental problems. The ambivalent attitudes seemed to be signs of an inability to perceive a clear connection between behavior in everyday life and the environmental problems, and to integrate ideals about living in an environmentally friendly way with the everyday life of young adulthood.

The dissertation concludes by pleading for more holistic methodological approaches when it comes to exploring attitudes and emotions concerning the environmental issue.

Future studies should avoid looking at worry about societal problems in isolation. Negative and positive emotions are not bipolar. Young people who are highly worried can also experience positive emotions to a high degree, which seems to have a positive impact on both well-being and behavior.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Örebro: Örebro universitetsbibliotek , 2007. , 148 p.
Series
Örebro Studies in Psychology, ISSN 1651-1328 ; 11
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-991ISBN: 978-91-7668-526-6 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-991DiVA: diva2:137526
Public defence
2007-03-16, Hörsal P2, Prismahuset, Örebro universitet, Örebro, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2007-02-23 Created: 2007-02-22 Last updated: 2017-10-18Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Adolescents’ worries about environmental risks: subjective well-being, values, and existential dimensions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Adolescents’ worries about environmental risks: subjective well-being, values, and existential dimensions
2005 (English)In: Journal of Youth Studies, ISSN 1367-6261, E-ISSN 1469-9680, Vol. 8, no 3, 331-347 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Previous studies concerning the association between macrosocial worries and well-being have shown diverse results. In this study a person-oriented approach was employed. Two subgroups of adolescents experiencing a high degree of worry about environmental risks but displaying varying levels of subjective well-being were identified. One scored low on well-being while the other scored high. Thereafter, the assumption that the two subgroups would differ on theoretically relevant comparison measures was investigated. The group high on both worry and well-being scored significantly higher on meaningfulness, trust in environmental organizations, and on anger and hope in relation to environmental risks than the group high on worry but low on well-being. Finally, environmental worry was mainly predicted by biospheric and altruistic values, but also by high levels of trust in science and environmental organizations. These results are discussed in relation to existential, emotion, and identity theories.

National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-3236 (URN)10.1080/13676260500261934 (DOI)
Available from: 2007-02-23 Created: 2007-02-23 Last updated: 2017-10-18Bibliographically approved
2. Confronting macrosocial worries: worry about environmental problems and proactive coping among a group of young volunteers 
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Confronting macrosocial worries: worry about environmental problems and proactive coping among a group of young volunteers 
2007 (English)In: Futures: The journal of policy, planning and futures studies, ISSN 0016-3287, E-ISSN 1873-6378, Vol. 39, no 6, 729-745 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Studies indicate that young people's interest in and worries about global issues, including environmental problems, often are connected with pessimism and inactivity. The purpose of this interview study, therefore, is to explore whether we can learn how to cope proactively with environmental worries from young people who are already actively engaged in environmental and global justice organizations. How do these young volunteers experience and reflect upon their worry? Which individual and collective coping strategies are used? The results are analyzed in relation to existential and emotion theories, and it is concluded that if we want to promote both an active stance towards the global future and psychological well-being among young people, it is not the ability to get rid of worry that should be sought after but rather the capacity to face worry, to learn from it, and to use it for constructive actions. In this regard, cognitive strategies for activating positive emotions and positive aspects of being actively engaged are important to acknowledge, since they could help the young to take on this difficult task.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2007
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-5899 (URN)10.1016/j.futures.2006.11.007 (DOI)
Available from: 2009-03-02 Created: 2009-03-02 Last updated: 2017-10-18Bibliographically approved
3. Recycling and ambivalence: quantitative and qualitative analyses of household recycling among young adults
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Recycling and ambivalence: quantitative and qualitative analyses of household recycling among young adults
2008 (English)In: Environment and Behavior, ISSN 0013-9165, E-ISSN 1552-390X, Vol. 40, no 6, 777-797 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Theories about ambivalence, as well as quantitative and qualitativeempirical approaches, are applied to obtain an understandingof recycling among young adults. A questionnaire was mailedto 422 Swedish young people. Regression analyses showed thata mix of negative emotions (worry) and positive emotions (hopeand joy) about the environmental problems was positively relatedto recycling. The opposite pattern was found for attitudinalambivalence toward recycling. Thereafter, semistructured interviewswere performed. In a group of reluctant recyclers, the ambivalentattitudes consisted of views that recycling is something beneficialfor the environment and is a civic duty. On the other hand,they wanted more information, were unable to integrate youthfulideals about living in an environmentally friendly way withthe everyday life of young adulthood, and felt low self-efficacy.In addition, strategies to activate positive emotions alongsidea high degree of environmental worry were explored in a groupwho recycle regularly.

National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-3238 (URN)10.1177/0013916507308787 (DOI)
Available from: 2007-02-23 Created: 2007-02-23 Last updated: 2017-10-18Bibliographically approved

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