From Psychological Distance to Place Affinity: How People Perceive and React to the Location of Climate Change Impacts

Keller, Elias, Richardson, Beth Helen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-8738-9925, Ball, Linden orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5099-0124 and Marsh, John Everett orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9494-1287 (2022) From Psychological Distance to Place Affinity: How People Perceive and React to the Location of Climate Change Impacts. Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology . (Submitted)

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As climate impacts become more visible, an increasing number of people experience or hear about distressing events such as flooding, landscape change and biodiversity loss. Most of these reports refer to specific places. It is therefore likely that people’s relationships with these places influence their perception of the climate crisis overall. In this paper, we draw together various strands of climate psychology to introduce a framework that addresses people’s perceptions of impacted places and the effect of these perceptions on considerations relating to risks. We propose that there are certain place beliefs (e.g., those related to distance, identity, similarity and caring) which make up our place affinity, which in turn influences our reaction to the place under threat. Additionally, we suggest there may be personal characteristics, termed susceptibility variables (e.g., empathy, values and thinking styles), which could shape these beliefs and their effect on risk perceptions. We report a mixed-method study that explores this framework in a sample of UK participants (N = 200). Participants expressed mixed feelings of familiarity, similarity and caring towards places impacted by climate change now or in the immediate future. Those with a higher affinity for an affected place were more likely to indicate higher concern, but not worry, about climate change overall. Participants expected to feel higher affinity for places impacted in the distant future; however, this was not associated with concern or worry. Qualitative data suggested that additional place beliefs may be related to climate justice, specifically the extent to which a place is thought be vulnerable or responsible for contributing to climate change. We conclude by discussing how our framework may facilitate effective messaging relating to climate change. We also highlight the need to conduct further exploratory and confirmatory work to identify and understand people’s complex beliefs and reactions to personally meaningful places that are under threat.

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