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The Importance of Emotions and Emotion Regulating Strategies in the Process of Learning about Global Climate Change
Department of Education, Uppsala University, Sweden. (Psykologi)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6613-5974
2012 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This paper takes as its starting point three aspects, and challenges, that are common for both health education and education for sustainable development: (1) They both concern dealing with information that could be perceived as anxiety provoking. When it comes to health and sustainability, educators inevitable will touch upon threats toward the well-being of the people involved in the educational setting. Education for sustainability also deals with threats toward future generations, animals, and/or people living in geographical distance places. Thus, both are related to existential issues (Ojala, 2005; Reid & Hendry, 2001). (2) They both concern people’s everyday lifestyles, where it is quite obvious that it is easier said than done to live in “healthy” and “sustainable” ways. People in today’s western societies are often overwhelmed with complex, mixed and uncertain information about how to live when it comes to both health and the environment. Thus, studies have shown that many people feel ambivalent concerning these issues (Ojala, 2008; Sparks et al., 2001). (3) Furthermore, the benefits of living in a “correct way” will not be visible immediately, while inconveniences are direct and quite common. Thus, to live in healthy and sustainable ways are, not seldom, connected with feelings of annoyance (see Dawes, 1980 on social dilemmas; Fisher et al., 2007). To summarize, both health education and education for sustainable development can evoke negative emotions. Therefore, it is argued that if educators would like to promote learning and action competence in these areas it is vital to have an insight in how people cope with negative emotions. This way of taking account of negative emotions and coping are already to a certain degree acknowledged in health education (see for instance Fisher et al., 2007; Reid & Hendry, 2001). However, this approach is less common when it comes to empirical research about education for sustainable development, although researchers at a theoretical level argue that emotional aspects are vital (Bruun Jensen, & Schnack, 1997; Persson, Lundegård, & Wickman, 2011). Hence, the aim of this study was twofold: (1) To empirically explore how Swedish young people – in late childhood/early adolescence, mid to late adolescence, and early adulthood – cope with worry and promote hope in relation to one of the worst threats towards the well-being of both people and nature/animals, namely global climate change. (2) To theoretically discuss the implications of the empirical results for educational practice. The theoretical framework of the paper consists of the well-known transactional theory of coping, that differs between problem-focused and emotion-focused coping, (Folkman & Lazarus,1984) as well as newer theories about the importance of meaning-focused coping, positive emotions (Folkman, 2008) and pro-active coping (Greenglass, 2002) for dealing with potential stressors.


Data was collected through a questionnaire. Children in the intermediate level of school (n= 90) and adolescents in senior high-school (n= 146) answered the questionnaire at school. A group of young adult university students (n= 112) was approached at the university and asked if they wanted to take part in the study. The questionnaire contained Likert-type and open-ended items. All three groups rated how much worry and how much hope they felt about climate change on a 6-point scale, not at all (1), a little (2), fairly little (3), fairly much (4), a lot (5), very much (6). One open-ended question about worry was then answered by those respondents that had indicated feeling worry fairly much, a lot, or very much (1) When you feel the most worried, do you do anything to not worry so much? If yes, describe what you do? One open-ended question about hope was answered by those respondents that had indicated feeling hope fairly much, a lot, and very much: (1) In your own words, describe your main reasons for feeling hope concerning climate change; i.e., why are you hopeful? The answers were coded in a qualitative manner using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006).

Expected Outcomes

Several coping strategies were identified, for instance, de-emphasizing the seriousness of climate change, distancing, hyperactivation, positive reappraisal, trust in different societal actors, planning, searching for information, doing something concrete, and existential hope. These where sorted under the overarching coping themes of problem-focused, emotion-focused, and meaning-focused coping. In addition, the results show that the children used less problem-focused coping and more distancing to cope with worry than the two older groups. Concerning sources of hope, the children used less positive reappraisal and instead placed trust in researchers and technological development to a higher degree than the two older groups. The results of the empirical study and the emotion regulation theories (Folkman & Lazarus,1984; Greenglass, 2002; Folkman, 2008), will be discussed in relation to practical implications for education for sustainable development. A special focus will be on the different coping strategies’ possible beneficial or hindering roles for a pluralistic approach to education for sustainable development (Englund, Öhman, & Östman, 2008). Here, the more specific functions of the emotions regulation strategies are elaborated on.


Bruun Jensen, B., & Schnack, K. (1997): The Action Competence Approach in Environmental Education, Environmental Education Research, 3(2), 163-178.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.

Dawes, R. M. (1980). Social Dilemmas. Annual Review of Psychology, 31, 169-193.

Englund, T., Öhman, J., & Östman, L. (2008). Deliberative Communication for Sustainability? : A Habermas-Inspired Pluralistic Approach. In Stephen Gough & Andrew Stables (eds.), Sustainability and Security Within Liberal Societies: Learning to Live with the Future. Routledge.

Fisher, E.B. et al. (2007). Healthy Coping, Negative Emotions, and Diabetes Management: A Systematic Review and Appraisal. The Diabetes Educator, 33,1080-1103.

Folkman, S. (2008). The case for positive emotions in the stress process. Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal, 21 (1), 3-14.

Greenglass, E. R (2002). Proactive coping and quality of life management. In E.Frydenberg (Ed.), Beyond coping: meeting goals, visions, and challenges (pp.39-62). New York: Oxford University Press.

Lazarus, R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Ojala, M. (2005). Adolescents´ worries about environmental risks: Subjective well-being, values, and existential dimensions. Journal of Youth Studies, 8(3), 331-347.

Ojala, M. (2008). Recycling and ambivalence: Quantitative and qualitative analyses of household recycling among young adults. Environment and Behavior, 40(6), 777–797.

Persson, L., Lundegård, I., & Wickman, P-O. (2011). Worry becomes hope in education for sustainable development. An action research study at secondary school. Utbildning & Demokrati, 20(1), 123–144.

Reid, M., & Hendry, L. (2001). Illness anxiety and somatic health concerns of northern rural Scottish young people: Implications for health care providers and educators. Health Education Journal, 60(1), 147-163.

Sparks, P. et al.. (2001). Ambivalence about health-related behaviours: An exploration in the domain of food choice. British Journal of Health Psychology, 6, 53-68.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
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URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-53570OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-53570DiVA: diva2:1047943
The European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2012), Cádiz, Spain, September 18-21, 2012
Young people´s communication with parents, friends, and teachers about global environmental problems: Emotions, coping, and self-efficacy
Swedish Research Council Formas, 2010-1152
Available from: 2016-11-19 Created: 2016-11-19 Last updated: 2016-11-22Bibliographically approved

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