Presence of Mind

Understanding environmental and other social problems.

Blown Away By Climate Change?

Will fearful news of record atmospheric carbon dioxide inspire action? It depends. Fear can motivate action but only under certain conditions. We need to experience climate change fear as just scary enough to motivate action, but not so scary as to trigger helplessness and defensive denial. Read More

Hi Dr. Burn! Thanks for

Hi Dr. Burn! Thanks for writing this. I feel like I'm in your classroom once again. I'm curious if you think the lack of action also has to do with our (the US) individualistic society. I have been frustrated with our lack of action in things like climate change and also in the recent (gun control). It seems if people don't have a very personal reason to take action they won't. Yet all of these things affect the country as a whole. In Japan (a known communal society) there are stories of how when the tsunami hit Japanese who were "unaffected" poorer personal funds into the country knowing that more help would be needed...and that this event didn't just affect those who had homes destroyed but it affected all of Japan. There's another story of old Japanese volunteering to be exposed to nuclear radiation to spare the younger child-bearing Japanese. This type of mentality is unheard of in America. What can we do to change this?

US Individualism and Environmental Inaction

I will probably blog on this particular question at some point as it is an interesting one indeed. There is research showing that people from collectivist societies have more "interdependent selves" and those in individualistic societies have more "individualistic selves." This may translate into greater altruism among collectivists, at least towards their "group." The relationship between culture and environmentalism is probably complicated though. Acting on behalf of one's group, can lead negatively impact the environment if an environmentally depreciative act benefits your group and its costs are shared (or borne) by other groups (look at China). That said, individualism is part of the problem. Many Americans are clearly hesitant to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of future generations and planet health. We are a "me first" society for sure.

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Shawn Meghan Burn, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo.

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