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An exploration of the structure and structural consequences of environmental concern

Read, Shari P. (2002) An exploration of the structure and structural consequences of environmental concern. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis explores the psychological structure of environmental concern. It deals with the possibility of there being two different types of environmental concern; environmental/optimal use concern and ecological/preservationist concern. The thesis is unique in its assertion that the difference between the two types of concern exists as a structural separation within the social cognition of individuals. The thesis is founded on the idea that environmental attitudes are embedded within socio-political cognition more so than attitudes concerned primarily with ecology. The first part of the thesis establishes the empirical evidence supporting the existence of two separate types of environmental concern and demonstrates their differential relationships with socio-political attitudes as a representation of the Dominant Social Paradigm.

Specifically, the first study focuses on the relationship between environmental attitudes, ecological attitudes, socio-political attitudes and beliefs about money. A cross-sectional survey of first year students at Murdoch University revealed that socio-political attitudes and beliefs about money each had a predictive relationship with environmental attitudes, while no such relationships were present for ecological attitudes. These results were replicated in a subsequent study that also explored associations between environmental attitudes and knowledge.

The second part of the thesis concentrates on the differential effects of priming people to either their environmental attitudes or their ecological attitudes to further test the separation of these cognitive structures. Study Three was designed to manipulate responses to environmentally relevant word stimuli. The results supported the separability of the two types of environmental concern, revealing environmental attitudes, but not ecological attitudes, to be embedded within the network of socio-political attitudes.

Results from Study Four showed that spontaneous word associations to the concepts, ‘environmental protection’ and ‘economic development’, differ significantly when participants are primed to their environmental attitudes as opposed to their ecological attitudes. This study also explores the structure of each of these types of environmental concern separately to validate the respective conceptualizations of ‘environmental’ and ‘ecological’ concern. Findings suggest that environmental concern is strongly associated with economic and political constructs while ecological attitudes are specifically ‘green’.

Chapter eight presents Study Five that further explores the structure of environmental and ecological attitudes. The study specifically examines the effects of priming on attitude accessibility and extremity. Findings reveal that the relative importance of an attitude object is a primary predictor of the extremity of environmental attitudes. The results also show that evaluations of environmental stimuli can be influenced by increasing the salience of ecological concern.

The thesis then extends to consider the behavioural consequences of the structural separability of environmental and ecological attitudes. Three environmental dilemmas were used in Study Six to examine the effects of priming on behavioural intentions. Chapter nine presents findings which illustrate, that although the primes had little influence over decisions about the dilemmas, a manipulation of the economic context of the dilemma had a significant effect on participants’ responses.

Chapter ten provides an integration and discussion of the implications of the structural separability of environmental and ecological attitudes. It also reviews the findings presented within the thesis that demonstrate the prevailing dominance of the Dominant Social Paradigm. It is concluded that the thesis is successful in its endeavor to provide empirical support for the hypothesis that environmentalism and ecologism represent two distinct forms of concern for the natural environment.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Innes, Mike
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