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Psychology Subdisciplines:History and Systems
Wilderness preservation has been a primary goal of environmental advocates for more than a century. At the end of the nineteenth century, Sierra Club founder John Muir promoted protection of intact wild places because of the spiritual, aesthetic, and recreational benefits they hold for people. A few decades later, as scientists learned more about ecology, individuals such as Aldo Leopold (1949) preached preservation from a less anthropocentric perspective, encouraging protection of nature for its own sake. As human cultures grow increasingly more urban, industrialized, and separated from wilderness-- and as wilderness areas become fewer and farther between- the idea of wilderness preservation becomes more abstract. How do individuals in contemporary urban settings feel about wilderness? Research on people's affective reactions to wilderness suggests a deep ambivalence; we feel positively toward wild nature because of the free and untamed life force it represents, while at the same time we feel disgust and fear about the uncontrolled and threatening aspects of it (Koole & Van den Berg, 2005; Van den Berg & ter Heijne, 2005). For example, Bixler & Floyd (1997) surveyed 450 suburban and rural eighth grade students and found that participants high in fear expectancy, disgust sensitivity, and desire for modern comforts expressed a preference for cultivated and manicured nature rather than wild nature. Koole & Van den Berg (2005) investigated humans' ambivalence toward wilderness within a Terror Management Theory (TMT) framework. TMT provides a theoretical analysis of how humans deal with their awareness of their own mortality (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991; 2004). According to TMT, we think and behave in ways that distance us from our existential fear. When we are confronted with the threat of death, we become more motivated to increase this emotional distance. For example, participants who were reminded of death were more likely to distance themselves perceptually and emotionally from other animals (Goldenberg, et al., 2001). Participants in Koole & Van den Berg's studies were more likely to associate both death and freedom with wilderness than with cultivated nature. When reminded of death (by completing a " fear of death" inventory), participants were more likely to show a preference for cultivated nature. It is not clear from empirical research whether people's fears of wilderness are related to their willingness to behave in ways that protect it.
One important component of a sustainable future will be the reduction of meat consumption by humans. Though much of the world is primarily vegetarian, a vegetarian diet is atypical in the United States and Western Europe. Perhaps this is why some Western psychologists have felt compelled to examine the motivations underlying the choice to eat a vegetarian diet. During the heyday of psychoanalytic thinking within the psychiatric community in the U. S., Psychiatric Quarterly Supplement published an article in which the author concluded that the " odd" behavior of vegetarianism is an example of a Freudian reaction formation in which the vegetarian who claims to be an animal lover actually possesses underlying cruel and sadistic tendencies (Barahal, 1946). Certainly, vegetarianism has become a much more mainstream option since and the idea that it represents latent psychopathology would not be popular today; however, a few contemporary researchers continue to question the motivation behind the choice. For example, Rozin, Markworth, and Stoess (1997) suggest that some vegetarians have experienced the process of " moralization, " in which a previously morally neutral behavior (i. e., eating meat) becomes a behavior with moral implications. These researchers compared " moral vegetarians" to " health vegetarians" (whose choice was motivated purely by health concerns) and found that moral vegetarians were more disgusted by meat and exhibited a more elaborate set of justifications for their choice to avoid it. Fessler, Arquello, Mekdara, and Macias (2003) predicted that if disgust is the emotional precedent for a moral rationale for meat avoidance, then individuals more prone to disgust should tend to eat less meat; however, their survey of more than 900 adults revealed a positive correlation rather than an inverse relationship between disgust sensitivity and meat consumption. The researchers speculate that the emotion of disgust is a consequence of anti-meat moral beliefs instead of a precursor to them. See Becker, Kals, and Frö hlich (2004) for a discussion of motivations for meat consumption.
Relative to billions of people in the world, American college students are not deprived. Their basic needs for food and shelter are met. They have a wealth of material goods besides. Still, students (like most members of American society) tend to suffer at least ocassionally from a sense of relative deprivation (e. g., they may have clothes, but they aren't the clothes they wish they had). Instructors can provoke students into thinking critically about their own feelings of relative deprivation by highlighting the stark contrast between the students' abundance and the poverty of others. A great visual aid is the photojournalist Peter Menzel's (1995) book Material World: A Global Family Portrait.
Sixteen photographers traveled to thirty countries to photograph demographically " average" families surrounded by all of their material possessions in front of their shelter. The book includes statistics about the countries and about the families, including telling facts such as the amount of the household income that goes to food and each family member's most prized possession. For samples of the book's content, visit the PBS " World in the Balance" website here. Ask students to consider what their own photograph would look like. Does awareness that others are the relatively deprived ones alter the students perception of what they have, want, and need? How do they feel when confronted with the fact that the deprivation of others is tied to their own wealth and (over) consumption? What do students think motivates their own material consumption in spite of having their material needs met? One possible explanation for our drive to consume and collect is that it serves a terror management function (Arndt, Solomon, Kasser, & Sheldon, 2004; Kasser & Sheldon, 2000).
Our students are fascinated by people who have intentionally dropped out of the consumer whirlwind of modern culture. There is some psychological research on what motivates some lifestyle pioneers toward voluntary simplicity. " Voluntary simplicity" generally refers to
the choice out of free will, rather than by being coerced by poverty, government
austerity programs, or being imprisoned, to limit expenditures on consumer
goods and services, and to cultivate non-materialistic sources of satisfaction
and meaning. (Etzioni, 1998, p. 620).
Although what exactly constitutes a voluntary simplicity lifestyle is up for debate, researchers have found some common motivations among individuals who move in this direction (Craig-Lees & Hill, 2002). Degenhardt (2002) concluded that the primary motivation for the adoption of a more sustainable lifestyle was " emotional consternation. " Others have found that committment to a simplicity lifestyle is related to individuals' ethical sense of ecological social responsibility (Huneke, 2005; Shaw & Newholm, 2002, 2003).
Are people more likely to support conservation of animals they find appealing? Some research suggests this is the case. Gunnthorsdottir (2001) presented college age participants with a species protection flyer featuring either no picture of an animal, an attractive picture of an animal (either a bat or an ape), or an unattractive picture of an animal (also a bat or an ape). Support for species protection was significantly higher among the participants who saw an attractive picture. (Interestingly, in a second study, Gonnthorsdottir found that simply being described as " endangered" increased perceptions of an animal's attractiveness). (See Tisdell, Wilson, & Nantha, 2005, for a more complex analysis of the relationship between likeability of mammals, birds, and reptiles and people's willingness to pay to protect them.) Kals and Mays (2002) argue that emotion has been neglected as a significant factor in predicting and encouraging sustainable behaviors in general.
Ask students whether they think nonhuman animals experience emotion and chances are that the dog ownerswill say "yes!" (and they may be joined by a few of their non-dog-owning peers). Psychological research on emotion has traditionally focused on humans, but scholars are increasingly turning their attention to affect in nonhuman animals. For example, Deborah Wells, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology at Queen's University in Ireland studied six lowland gorillas at the Belfast zoo. Wells (2005) found that when visitors were present the gorillas appeared to become anxious and agitated, in contrast to their relaxed demeanor during non-visiting hours. In 2005, the Compassion in World Farming Trust organized a conference in London called "From Darwin to Dawkins: The science and implications of animal sentience." Scholars presented research on an array of animal affect including cows' displays of joy, chimpanzees' compassionate caretaking, and friendships among sheep. Students will likely be interested in the work of behavioral ecologist and prolific author Marc Bekoff (e.g., 2002, 2005). Bekoff is the regional coordinator of Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots program, and with Goodall founded Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (EETA). Scientific skepticism about emotion in nonhuman animals has long been tied to the issue of measurement: how can we know what an animal is experiencing when we cannot communicate with that animal? Paul, Harding, & Mendl (2005) argue that emotion can be assessed using nonlinguistic cognitive measures based on known links between emotion and cognitive functioning in humans.CLASS ACTIVITIES
Bixler and Floyd (1997) surveyed 450 suburban and rural eighth grade students and found that participants high in fear expectancy, disgust sensitivity, and desire for modern comforts expressed a preference for cultivated and manicured nature rather than wild nature, preferred indoor to outdoor recreation, and were more likely to desire an indoor career. Bixler and Floyd's measure of nature-related fear expectancy included items such as " getting lost" and " seeing a snake. " Disgust sensitivity was measure with " mild" items (e. g., " Getting itchy from bug bites and scrapes, " " Accidentally stepping in mud around a pond") and " strong" items (e. g., " Finding a tick biting my scalp, " " Accidentally stepping in animal droppings"). Desire for modern comforts included both indoor items (e. g., flush toilets) and outdoor items ( e. g., insect repellent). Dependent measures included a " Recreation Activity Preference Scale" (i. e., preference for indoor vs. outdoor recreation) and a " Future Work Environments" scale (i. e., desire to work indoors or outdoors). Introduce students to this study and ask them to brainstorm other behaviors that might be related to fear of nature, disgust for nature, and desire for modern comforts. These could include efforts to protect wilderness (e. g., contributing to environmental groups, reducing personal contributions to water and air pollution), lifestyle choices (e. g., choosing to live in established areas instead of new developments, maintaining a yard garden of native species rather than a manicured lawn), food preferences (e. g., opting for farm-fresh but imperfect organic fruit vs. aesthetically ideal fruit grown with pesticides), etc. (If you have time, have students choose a subset of these behaviors and a subset of Bixler & Floyd's items and administer them to a sample of their peers. Calculate correlations and see if any of their hypothesized associations are supported.)MULTIMEDIA RESOURCES
Designed as a spoof of the popular "Matrix" films, this website addresses the history and current conditions of factory farming. It serves well as a starter for a lecture or discussion about motivations away from a meat-intensive diet. See The Meatrix and The Meatrix II: Revolting at http://www.themeatrix.com/.
This hour-long film is a sequel to the film "Affluenza" (described in the Distress & Wellness section of this site). It features individuals who have voluntarily opted for a simplicity lifestyle by reducing consumption, shedding possessions, and slowing down. This film would work well in conjunction with a lecture or discussion about research on motivations for voluntary simplicity lifestyles. Click here for a description on the Bullfrog Films website.Suggested Readings For Students
Kals, E., & Mays, J. (2002). Sustainable development and emotions. In P. Schmuck & P. W. Schultz (Eds.), Psychology of sustainable development (pp. 97-122). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.References Cited In This Section
Arndt, J., Solomon, S., Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. M. (2004). The urge to splurge: A terror management account of materialism and consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14, 198-212.
Barahal, H. (1946). The cruel vegetarian. Psychiatric Quarterly Supplement, 20, 3-13.
Becker, R., Kals, E., & Frö hlich, P. (2004). Meat consumption and commitments on meat policy: Combining indivdiual and public health. Journal of Health Psychology, ., 143-155.
Bekoff, M. (2002). Minding animals: Awareness, emotions, and heart. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bekoff, M. (2005). The question of animal emotions: An ethological perspective. In F. McMillan (Ed.), Mental health and well-being in animals (pp. 15-27). Ames, IA: Blackwell.
Bixler, R. D., & Floyd, M. F. (1997). Nature is scary, disgusting, and uncomfortable. Environment and Behavior, 29, 443-467.
Craig-Lees, M., & Hill, C. (2002). Understanding voluntary simplifiers. Psychology & Marketing, 19, 187-210.
Degenhardt, L. (2002). Why do people act in sustainable ways? Results of an empirical study of lifestyle pioneers. In P. Schmuck & W. P. Schultz (Eds.), Psychology of sustainable development (pp. 123-147). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.
Etzioni, A. (1998). Voluntary simplicity: Characterization, select psychological implications, and societal consequences. Journal of Economic Psychology, 19, 619-643.
Fessler, D. M. T., Arquello, A. P., Mekdara, J. M., & Macias, R. (2003). Disgust sensitivity and meat consumption: A test of an emotivist account of moral vegetarianism. Appetite, 41, 31-41.
Goldenberg, J. L., Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Kluck, B., & Comwell, R. (2001). I am not an animal: Mortality salience, disgust, and the denial of human creatureliness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 427-435.
Gunnthorsdottir, A. (2001). Physical attractiveness of an animal species as a decision factor for its preservation. Anthrozoö s, 14, 204-216.
Huneke, M. (2005). The face of the un-consumer: An empirical examination of the practice of voluntary simplicity in the United States. Psychology & Marketing, 22, 527-550.
Kals, E., & Mays, J. (2002). Sustainable development and emotions. In P. Schmuck & P. W. Schultz (Eds.), Psychology of sustainable development (pp. 97-122). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.
Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. M. (2000). Of wealth and death: Materialism, mortality salience, and consumption behavior. Psychological Science, 11, 348-351.
Koole, S. L., & Van den Berg, A. E. (2005). Lost in the wilderness: Terror management, action control, and evaluations of nature. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 1014-1028.
Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand County almanac and sketches here and there. New York: Oxford University Press.
Menzel, P. (1995). Material world: A global family portrait. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Paul, E. S., Harding, E. J., & Mendl, M. (2005). Measuring emotional processes in animals: The utility of a cognitive approach. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 29, 469-491.
Rozin, P., Markwith, M., & Stoess, C. (1997). Moralization and becoming a vegetarian: The transformation of preferences into values and the recruitment of disgust. Psychological Science, ., 67-73.
Shaw, D. & Newholm, T. (2002). Voluntary simplicity and the ethics of consumption. Psychology & Marketing, 19, 167-185.
Shaw, D., & Newholm, T. (2003). Consumption simplicity among ethical consumers. In S. P. Shohov (Ed.), Advances in psychology research (Vol. 20, pp. 145-161). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (1991). A terror management theory of social behavior: The psychological functions of self-esteem and cultural worldviews. In M. Zanna (Ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 24, pp. 93-159). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2004). The cultural animal: Twenty years of terror management theory and research. In J. Greenberg, S. L. Koole, & T. Pyszczynski (Eds.) Handbook of experimental existential psychology (pp. 13-34). New York: Guilford Press.
Tisdell, C., Wilson, C., & Nantha, H. S. (2005). Association of public support for survival of wildlife species with their likeability. Anthrozoos, 18, 160-174.
Van den Berg, A. E., & ter Heijne, M. (2005). Fear versus fascination: An explanation of emotional responses to natural threats. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25, 261-272.
Wells, D. L. (2005). A note on the effect of zoo visitors on the behaviour and welfare of captive gorillas. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 93, 13-17.