Santoso M. The intersecting effects of gender and hedonic values on renewable energy policy support. HPHR. 2021;47. 10.54111/0001/UU2
Climate change is one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st century with its effects that worsen existing illnesses and create new public health challenges. Global carbon emissions from fossil fuels are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and are by far the largest contributor to climate change. By shifting toward renewable energy, we can not only cut emissions, but also promote a more sustainable and healthy future. This study experimentally investigates the impact of providing imagine-self and imagine-other perspective-taking message conditions on individuals’ support for renewables policy support as a function of one’s gender and value orientations. Our findings, from 364 US-based individuals, show that different perspective-taking messages interact with hedonic values on renewable energy policy support and that the effect is gender-dependent. Across the board, we found that the imagine-other perspective-taking condition was a significant predictor for renewables policy support and that women with lower hedonic values were more likely to support policy for renewable energy when asked to imagine another in distress (imagine-other) as opposed to imagining themselves in the shoes of another in distress (imagine-self) and the no perspective-taking control. These findings conclude policymakers and communicators need to keep the greater audience of their message in mind when discussing renewables as there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach that resonates with all groups for communicating climate-related messaging to promote renewables policy for public health.
Climate change is the greatest threat to humanity today with its effects multiplying global social and health inequities.1,2 Early last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlined the various impacts of climate change on human health including direct effects such as respiratory disease and asthma, to long-term indirect effects of forced migration, mental health impacts, and civil conflict.3 Historically marginalized communities are most vulnerable and have the least resources to mitigate climate change-related threats, such as increasing food and water insecurity and risk of natural disasters exposure.4 Without the implementation of a policy that sharply curtails greenhouse gas emissions by shifting toward alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal, alongside significant measures that help these communities adapt to a warming climate, the health toll of climate change will only worsen.5,6
Across all sociocultural contexts, women are one of the higher risk groups for climate change impacts due to defined gender roles that result in differing health needs, ecosystem use, and responsibilities.7 Multiple research studies drawing on gender socialization theory have suggested that given the different social expectations that men and women receive in early childhood, distinct value orientations emerge.8,9 This has resulted in women having stronger pro-environmental values compared to men.10-14
Value orientations are important as they indicate what knowledge is most cognitively accessible and the alternative actions and choices that people consider in decision-making.15 The Schwartz’s Value Survey Scale (SVS) has captured two sets of values: (1) self-transcendent values, which reflect a concern with collective interests and not only one’s own, and (2) self-enhancing values, which reflect a concern for one’s own interest. Most studies have shown that individuals with strong self-transcendent values are more likely to have pro-climate beliefs and actions, while those with strong self-enhancement values are seen to be associated with less pro-climate beliefs and actions.16-18 While most values have been explored in depth in relation to how they influence environmental behavior with individuals having higher altruistic and biospheric values having greater environmental concern than individuals having higher egoistic values, only minimal work has been conducted on hedonic values in relation to climate behavior, which reflects a concern with improving one’s feelings and reducing effort because most environmental or climate behavior may require the foregoing of short-term pleasure and gratification for the long-term potential climate impacts.15, 19-20
A majority of climate change communication today focuses on the information deficit model, one that indicates that the lack of public engagement in climate action is a result of a lack of information and knowledge that is communicated one way from experts to lay audiences.21 The model posits that accurate communication of climate change research has the capacity to change individual knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.22 Researchers have suggested that emotions often direct behaviors, and neuroimaging studies have suggested that in viewing climate change-related communication on planet health, empathy is an emotional default that could spark helping behavior.23-27 Prior work has also highlighted the importance of empathy in environmental conservation efforts in addition to environmental concern.28 For the purposes of this study, empathy is defined as the understanding and sharing of another’s emotional experience of an issue and comes when an entity, human or non-human, is oppressed and in need.28-31
Perspective-taking, or cognitive empathy, is the capacity to infer others’ feelings and intentions.32 It comes in two forms, namely, imagine-self perspective-taking and imagine-other perspective-taking. 31 Batson (2002) showed how the two conditions elicited different reactions to pro-social action. In the imagine-self perspective-taking condition, participants are asked to imagine how they themselves would be feeling if in the position of the individual, animal or object represented in the story or photographs.31 Meanwhile, in the imagine-other perspective-taking condition, participants were asked to imagine how the individual, animal or object represented would feel. Both conditions elicited empathy at high levels which are cited to the altruistic values one feels, resulting in the awareness of the suffering being faced and the desire to alleviate this suffering.
Another study investigated the effect of visual images and perspective-taking conditions for evoking concern for environmental issues, finding that personal distress moderated the relationship between the type of image and perspective-taking condition for environmental concern and for biospheric and egoistic values.33 Moreover, this work highlighted that by viewing animal health harms, individuals increased biospheric concern and decreased egoistic concern due to the personal distress they feel when given perspective-taking conditions, particularly in the imagine-other condition.
Our pilot study aims to better understand the intersection of gender and hedonic values on climate policy support via perspective-taking to promote support for renewables policy. We hypothesize that hedonic values interact with gender in the imagine-other perspective-taking condition to increase support for renewables policy to mitigate climate change. We predict that this increase in the imagine-other condition is greater than in the imagine-self and control conditions.
Four-hundred-and-eleven participants were recruited using Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) Prime. Thirty-one participants were excluded from the analysis because of their failure to complete CAPTCHA questions, eighteen were excluded for failure to complete the required attentional checks. The final sample consisted of three-hundred-and-sixty-four participants (228 males, 132 females, 2 non-binary or third-gender individuals, and 2 who preferred not to reveal their gender identities). Each participant received $1 as compensation for taking the survey, which took approximately 10 minutes to complete. All participants were over 18 years of age and were US residents. The study was approved by the Middlebury College Institutional Review Board (Protocol Number: 20-056).
Values. The Short Schwartz Value Survey was used to measure general value orientations.15 The scale consists of 16 items to assess the different value preferences. This scale was shortened from the full Schwartz Value Survey scale with the 16 items being those from the two sections of the scale. Each value is described with one or few words, followed by additional information about the word in parentheses. For example, “Equality (equal opportunity for all)”, “Social Justice (correcting injustice, care for the weak)”, “Respecting the Earth (harmony with other species)”. Participants were asked to read all the values and then rate the values in terms of their importance for them on a Likert scale where -1 = opposed to my values, 0 = not important, 3 = important, and 7 = extremely important. The Schwartz Value Scale short form has been found to have reliable alphas.15
Perspective-taking messaging. Images of adverse animal health effects due to environmental disasters, namely, a bird caught in an oil spill and a seal caught in a net were used as empathy frames.25 Prior to viewing the images, participants received a prompt that asked them to imagine themselves in the shoes of the animal experiencing distress (imagine-self) or imagine how the animal in distress feels (imagine-other), when in the perspective-taking conditions, or did not receive any condition in the control.
Climate policy support. Climate policy support was asked through a 5-point Likert scale with 1 = definitely do not support the policy, 2 = probably not support the policy, 3 = undecided, 4 = probably support the policy, 5 = definitely support the policy. Our renewable policy support item was captured from Schoenefeld and McCauley (2016):34
There is a number of government policies that could be enacted to reduce environmental pollution. Please use the scale to indicate whether or not you personally support the government policy in question.
Demographic questions. Participants were asked one question about their gender identity.
Participants were asked to take a survey on environmental decision-making through Amazon Mechanical Turk. After reading a short description of the study and consenting to participate, participants were prompted with the short Schwartz Value Survey. The items within the scale were presented in random order to avoid order effects, which means that the order was different for each participant. Following this, participants were assigned randomly to one of three perspective-taking conditions: imagine-self (where they were asked to view themselves in the shoes of an animal in distress), imagine-other (where they were asked to imagine how the animal in distress feels), and control (no perspective-taking information). Next, all the conditions were then asked to answer questions on policy support and gender. After this, participants were given a Mechanical Turk number, which they can input in Mechanical Turk to be paid for completing the study and thanked for their participation.
Out of 411 participants, 30 failed CAPTCHA questions and another 17 failed embedded attentional checks throughout the study, which left 364 participants. There were 119 participants in the imagine-self condition, 121 participants in the imagine-other condition, and 124 participants in the control condition. Responses were slightly positively skewed across all assessed variables: hedonic values (M = 6.56, SD = 1.67), egoistic values (M = 4.75, SD = 1.61), altruistic values (M = 7.11, SD = 1.58) biospheric values (M = 6.92, SD = 1.67), and policy support (M = 4.31, SD = 0.82). Men had higher hedonic values (M = 6.57, Median = 7.00, SD = 1.74) than women (M = 6.55, Median = 6.67, SD = 1.52). Cronbach’s alphas of all scales were high,40 ranging between 0.81 to 0.92. Correlation analyses found that higher hedonic values resulted in less support for climate policy support.
Ordinary least squares (OLS) regression showed that for renewables policy, the imagine-other condition, but not the imagine-self, was more likely to predict policy support by 12.30% (R2 = 0.01, B = 0.12, p < 0.05). Our findings also show that gender differences played a role in renewables policy support with women who have lower hedonic values in the imagine-other perspective-taking conditions are more likely to support renewables policy than those in the control (F (2,4) = 2.69, p < 0.05) (Figure 1). There was also no significant main effect between hedonic values and perspective-taking respectively on renewables policy support in men.
Figure 1. Changes in Renewables Policy Support as a Function of Hedonic Values and Perspective-Taking Condition in Women
This study investigated the intersecting role of gender and values on support for renewables policy via perspective-taking climate communications material. Our study also showed that when placed in different perspective-taking conditions, the imagine-other condition provided a greater window of empathy to individuals across genders than the imagine-self and the control. To further current literature, our results also illustrate that when placed in the imagine-other condition, women with lower hedonic values are more likely to support renewables policy. Thus, our findings suggest that investing in messaging that could increase one’s belief of the imminent threat of climate change would be beneficial for future climate communications and policy conversations.
These findings support those in the prior literature in that imagine-other is influential in evoking environmental support,33 and show that despite findings that the imagine-self perspective-taking is helpful to promote pro-social behavior and increased support for mandatory pro-climate initiatives, climate policy support is more issue- and context-dependent.31,35 This highlights the need for greater cognizance of different values and gender orientations and their interactions with perspective-taking conditions to invoke policy support and action.
Recent research has alluded to the benefits of renewable energy sources on public health across populations.36 The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that reduce toxic air pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide, which are health-harming and affect over 57 thousand Americans annually.37 In order to promote global health equity, action on climate is key and it is imperative to communicate this in ways of value to different audiences and communities.
This study indicates that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach that resonates with all groups, given the role of individual differences in shaping individual interpretations of climate events that threaten public health. Thereby, the importance of tailoring frames to the target audience’s beliefs and values to increase the effectiveness of policy design and communications, as they interact with one’s cognitive processes and decision-making.38 There is also a need to segment audiences in climate change communication because of the differing message effects and reactance effects.34,39 Moreover, our findings underscore the need for greater cognizance of individual differences for legislators and climate communicators on various climate issues to promote public health.
The author has no relevant financial disclosures or conflicts of interest.
The author would like to thank the Middlebury College Conservation Psychology Lab, Professor Michelle McCauley, Maya Saterson, Thomas Olson and Julia Berazneva for their insight over the course of this research. This research was funded by the Miller Palen Fund at Middlebury College.
Monique Santoso is the Program Coordinator for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED) at the Harvard School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital. This work was conducted independently of the position during her undergraduate study at Middlebury College where she studied Environmental Studies and Psychology.