Differentiating environmental concern in the context of psychological adaption to climate change

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143 Scopus citations


Despite existing evidence for the threats of climate change facing people living in the U.S., the psychological impacts of this threat have been neglected in public and scientific discourse, resulting in a notable lack in studies on individuals’ adaptation to climate change. Using social-cognitive theory, we examine how three forms of environmental concern—egoistic (e.g., concern for oneself; one's health or life), social-altruistic (e.g., concern for others; future generations or country), and biospheric (e.g., concern for plants and animals; nature)—influence concurrent ecological stress and ecological coping strategies. Further, we examine how ecological stress and coping are associated with both depressive symptoms and pro-environmental behaviors. In an online survey of 342 U.S. adults we found unique patterns of the three forms of environmental concern. Only individuals higher in biospheric environmental concern perceived ecological stress and engaged in ecological coping. In contrast, individuals higher in social-altruistic concern did not perceive ecological stress, but did engage in ecological coping. Those higher in egoistic concern neither perceived ecological stress, nor engaged in coping. In addition, perceived ecological stress was positively associated with depressive symptoms; ecological coping negatively predicted depressive symptoms, while positively predicting pro-environmental behaviors. In sum, with the exception of those high in biospheric concern, study participants did not seem to perceive climate change threats as having a profound effect on their own or their family's life. Differentiating three forms of environmental concern provides a nuanced view on their association with ecological stress and coping, and in turn depressive symptoms and pro-environmental behaviors. Results indicate that current public policy approaches that often focus on the natural environment when depicting or explaining the effects of climate change, may limit the effectiveness of interventions to those people who already show high concern for all living creatures, while failing to affect those motivated by egoistic or altruistic concern, increasing the risks associated with delaying climate change adaptation and the potential for large-scale negative mental health effects in our society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)158-167
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • Climate change beliefs
  • Climate change threats
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Ecological coping
  • Ecological stress
  • Environmental concern
  • Pro-environmental behaviors
  • Psychological adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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