Coping with chronic environmental contamination: Exploring the role of social capital

Harrison J. Schmitt, Daniel Sullivan, Alexis N. Goad, Roman Palitsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The experience of chronic environmental contamination (CEC) is an increasingly prevalent environmental hazard faced by communities around the world. Evidence suggests that this experience can be psychologically stressful. However, CEC is an of often-overlooked environmental justice issue and collective action problem in the psychology literature. We explore the role of social capital as a buffer for the negative impacts of CEC using geographical (Study 1), qualitative (Study 2), and experimental (Study 3) methods. Study 1 shows that US county-level social capital buffers the relationship between air pollution and mental distress. Study 2 presents a qualitative analysis of 13 interviews conducted with people impacted by CEC in Tucson, AZ, focusing on sources of stress, coping mechanisms, and the role of social capital the CEC experience. Study 3 presents an experiment conducted with Tucson residents using a 2(CEC threat) × 2(perceptions of social capital induction) design to investigate the role of social capital in efficacy and defensive denial responses to CEC threat. Though the onset of CEC can damage networks of social capital (Study 2), increasing community perceptions of social capital may be an important avenue for future research (Study 3). We discuss the importance of mixed-methods approaches, as well as the importance of integrating theorizing on social capital into the psychology literature to address invisible and chronic stressors like CEC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101870
JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Air pollution
  • Chronic environmental contamination
  • Environmental justice
  • Social capital
  • Stress
  • Water contamination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Coping with chronic environmental contamination: Exploring the role of social capital'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this