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Symposium Seeing and experiencing sustainability (Symposium)

Thursday 12 October 2023Add to my calendar
15:15 to
TvA 1.0.35
Barbara Müller & Marieke Fransen
Sylvia Hayes, Marijn Meijers, Daniella Becker and Thijs Bouman
Seeing and experiencing sustainability: the potential of visuals, visibility, values, and hedonic experiences in sustainable behavioural change

In the last IPCC report from 2023, it is mentioned that the goal of the Paris agreement to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius is out of sight.

Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our times: rising temperatures lead to an increase of natural hazards, such as prolonged droughts and wildfires, but also more floods and heavy rain falls. These, in turn, increase the likelihood that other crises, for example hunger epidemics, pandemics, or migration crises, will occur more often. Given this impact, it becomes clear that the climate crisis needs to be addressed holistically with an inter- and transdisciplinary approach.

To be able to adapt to climate change now and in the future, it is thus important that people become more aware and better informed about climate change, and how they can successfully change their behaviour to help minimising the impact of the climate crises. At the same time, climate anxiety (and with that, inaction) needs to be avoided. How society as a whole can achieve these goals is the focus of the present symposium.

This symposium will focus on communication about climate change and behaviour change in the area of ecological sustainability with speakers from communication science, psychology, and geography. Using different viewpoints and methods, four speakers will present their recent work and open questions. We will end the symposium with a discussion about future directions and possible contributions of how we can add to the solution of this challenge.

Symposium program

15.15 Welcome and intro
15.30 The visual life of climate change Dr. Sylvia Hayes (University of Exeter)
16:00 Digital communication tools for stimulating sustainable behavior Dr. Marijn Meijer (University of Amsterdam)
16:30 Enduring behaviour change in the sustainability domain: the neglected role of affective experience e.
Dr. Daniela Becker (Radboud University)
17:00 A value-basis for (un)sustainable action Dr. Thijs Bouman (University of Groningen)
17:45 End

Detailed Information about the lecture(r)s:

1) Sylvia Hayes – Geography - University of Exeter, United Kingdom
The visual life of climate change

Images are ubiquitous in everyday life. They are a key part of the communication process, shaping peoples’ attitudes and policy preferences on complex issues such as climate change. In particular, visual imagery is a key format of communication on social media platforms, which are known to be a significant site of young people’s access to news and information about climate change.

Research to date on climate change communication has often neglected the visual, despite findings showing the importance of visual imagery in affecting the public’s emotions about climate change. This is particularly important to analyse given the fact that the images which have come to dominate visual portrayals of climate change (and, conversely, those which are excluded) are known to influence how we interact with climate change in our everyday lives.

This talk will provide an overview of the current research landscape on the visual communication of climate change, including findings about the content, audience responses, and production of climate change visual content, with a focus on news media imagery.

Bio Sylvia Hayes
Sylvia Hayes is a final year PhD researcher at the University of Exeter. Sylvia has previously completed a BA degree in Geography (First Class Hons) and an MRes in Sustainable Futures. Her research focuses on the visual communication of climate change by digital media organisations, and her PhD project involved an ethnographic study of one specialist climate change UK-based journalism organisation (Carbon Brief) and how their organisational culture impacts on the style and tone of visual imagery present in the content published. Sylvia specializes in interdisciplinary methods, often combining quantitative content analysis and computational methods with deep in-depth qualitative analysis. Sylvia is active in the Royal Geographical Society, being the PGR Representative for the Participatory Geography Research Group. Sylvia also has expertise in the analysis of climate change protest visuals and is involved in multiple projects with teams across the world focusing on the shifting visual discourse of climate change protest.

2) Marijn Meijer, Persuasive Communication, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Digital communication tools for stimulating sustainable behavior

In my research, I look for answers as to why people behave (not) sustainably and how we can use communication to stimulate behavioral change. The research I will be presenting looks at the possibilities of digital tools such as Virtual Reality (VR) and green apps. Virtual reality has the ability to “make the invisible visible”. In the Netherlands, for example, we still notice relatively little of climate change. For example, we have had some very dry summers and last year's floods in Limburg are also linked to climate change, but for many people climate change still feels a bit like a "psychologically distant" problem. One of the questions we are therefore investigating is whether experiencing climate problems in virtual reality can make people see climate problems more urgently, and whether this can increase the number of climate conversations people have. Another question we are investigating is whether VR can encourage people to make more sustainable consumer choices, for example by making the effects of food consumption (e.g., eating beef) on the environment (e.g., deforestation) directly visible.

Bio Marijn Meijer
Marijn Meijers is assistant professor in persuasive communication. She holds a Master’s degree in social psychology (Tilburg University) and received her Ph.D. in communication science (University of Amsterdam). Her research and teaching focuses on pro-environmental behavior and how to stimulate pro-environmental behavior by means of communication. Her current research focuses on using digital tools (e.g., virtual reality, green apps, social media) to stimulate pro-environmental behavior (e.g., changing to a plant-based diet, having climate conversations) and is supported by several grants (e.g., NWO Veni, NWO XS). As co-director of ECoLab, board member of CSDS, and vice-chair of ICA’s Environmental Communication Division, Marijn enjoys bringing people together to work on environmental topics. She also highly values valorization (e.g., collaborating with practitioners during the classes she teaches, giving guest lectures for high school students, participating in Weekend of Science).

3) Daniela Becker – Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen
Enduring behaviour change in the sustainability domain: The neglected role of affective experiences

In science and society, we often focus on changing people’s behaviour: we want people to eat less meat, take the public transport more often, or buy ethically produced products. In the present talk, I argue that in order to achieve enduring behaviour change, it is not only important to encourage a specific behavioural outcome, but to focus on people’s affective experiences along the way. I present two studies in which I zoom in on the affective experience during decision making (Study 1) and during the behaviour itself (Study 2). In Study 1 (N = 383, pre-registered), we show that the experience of decisional conflict (e.g., between sustainability consumer goals vs. self-interest) predicted increased negative post-choice emotions (e.g., regret) and reduced choice satisfaction. Importantly, this pattern occurred for the non-sustainable as well as for sustainable choice. Decisional conflict also increased the likelihood of making the opposite choice in a subsequent consumer choice setting – again independent of whether one had first made a sustainable choice or not. In Study 2 (N = 150, pre-registered), we investigated whether also the affective experience during the sustainable behaviour itself (e.g., enjoying a cold [vs. hot] shower, a vegetarian [vs. meat] meal) plays a role in predicting behavioural patterns. We found that hedonic experiences (e.g., pleasure, enjoyment) during the behaviour are the strongest predictor of people’s regular engagement in those behaviours – stronger than people’s sense of meaning or thoughts about pro-environmental goals during the behaviour. Together the two studies suggest that in order to achieve enduring behaviour change in the sustainability domain, we need to focus on changing people’s experiences: we need to reduce decisional conflict and enhance the hedonic experience of the behaviour itself.

Bio Daniela Becker
Daniela Becker works as an assistant professor in the Behaviour Change and Well-being group of the Behavioural Science Institute. In her work she uses insights from decision-making and self-regulation literature to better understand people’s willingness to repeatedly engage in sustainable behaviour. Daniela completed her PhD at the University of Amsterdam and a post-doc at the Leibniz Institut für Wissensmedien in Tübingen. Her work is supported by grants from the Leibniz Foundation, German Science Foundation (DFG), and the Dutch Research Council (NWO). In her work she strives towards Open Science.

4) Thijs Bouman – Environmental Psychology, University of Groningen, the Netherlands
A value-basis for (un)sustainable action

Current society is facing various sustainability challenges, including climate change and pandemics. Sustainable action and change are urgently needed to effectively and successfully deal with these challenges, requiring a good understanding of the drivers of (un)sustainable action. In this presentation, I will discuss how individuals’ (un)sustainable actions are often rooted in their personal values, as well as the values they believe other citizens endorse. I will discuss what values individuals endorse, what values they believe others endorse, and the processes through which these values translate into (un)sustainable action. Specifically, I address common biases and the implications these may have for sustainable (in)action. Moreover, I will discuss why individuals do not always act in line with their values, and how individuals could be assisted in better realising their values. Together, these insights offer valuable perspectives for both science and practice, which theoretical and practical implications will be discussed.

Bio Thijs Bouman
Thijs Bouman is an Assistant Professor in Environmental Psychology at the University of Groningen. Thijs completed his PhD in Social Psychology in 2016, which focused on intergroup threats, whereafter he started working in the Environmental Psychology research group of the University of Groningen, first as a postdoctoral researcher, and since 2020 as an Assistant Professor. His current research focuses on personal and group factors that (de)motivate people to take sustainable action. More specifically, he investigates the role of basic human values in sustainability transitions, in particular how people are affected by the (mis)perceptions they have about each other’s values. In his research, he strongly collaborates with other disciplines and partners from practice, for instance in the domains of energy, ecology, health, and art.

Barbara Müller

If you would like to join this symposium in-person or online, please send an email to Barbara Müller (Barbara.Muller@ru.nl).