Psychological barriers to climate change. An exploration of implicit and explicit attitudes to sustainability and their behavioural implications

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis tackles an issue of global importance, namely why we, as consumers, are not doing more to change our behaviour in the face of the threat posed by climate change. The scientific evidence for climate change is clear and unambiguous, yet there is serious concern about the public's willingness to adapt their behaviour and lifestyles to ameliorate its effects. This is puzzling in the light of the existing literature on self-report attitudes to sustainability, conducted by a variety of governmental and other agencies, which suggests that the public are ready for behaviour change. This interdisciplinary thesis explores the relationship between self-report measures of attitude, and measures of implicit attitude (not based on self-reports), and a number of aspects of consumer behaviour. These include visual attention to carbon labels in an experimental setting, consumer choice between products with various labels, including carbon labels, in a simulated shopping task, and choice between different aspects of lifestyle varying in carbon footprint. The studies found that self-reported attitudes were good predictors of self-reported behaviour, but not actual behaviour. Implicit attitudes to carbon footprint were a better predictor of visual attention to carbon labels, and the choice of low carbon items in a simulated shopping task, especially under time pressure. The thesis also considered whether we could change explicit/implicit attitudes to carbon footprint and generate more sustainable lifestyle choices, using film content with a primary focus on emotion, information or both. It showed that it is possible to influence both carbon attitudes and behaviour; however, these effects are short-lived. The thesis argues that in the future we will need to design interventions aimed at changing both the explicit and implicit attitudes of younger children to produce the type of behavioural change that we need to combat global warming in any sort of meaningful way
Date of Award10 Oct 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorMartin McPhillips (Director of Studies), CLAIRE PARKINSON (Supervisor) & DAMIEN LITCHFIELD (Supervisor)


  • psychological barriers
  • sustinability
  • consumer behaviour
  • carbon footprint
  • climate change

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