Adolescents' Perceptions of the Psychological Distance to Climate Change, Its Relevance for Building Concern about It, and the Potential for Education


One of the greatest challenges of this century is climate change. Unfortunately, it is still unclear how to motivate people to engage in environmentally friendly behaviour. To be effective, education and communication strategies must take into account people’s perceptions and beliefs. A root difficulty is that the general public tends to perceive climate change as a psychologically distant phenomenon— something that, if at all, happens not here, not now, and not to oneself. In this study, we explored perceptions of psychological distance to climate change with a highly relevant but so far overlooked population— adolescents. Swiss adolescents (N = 587) perceived climate change to be a certain and present risk. However, they perceived climate change to affect other places and other people more than themselves. Regression analysis revealed a significant inverse relationship between distance and concern: respondents who felt psychologically closer to the phenomenon expressed greater concern. The findings contribute to the understanding of how young people perceive climate change, which should assist in designing education strategies to make it more salient for individual behaviour.

Climate Change and the Role of Education