Emotional reactions to climate change: a comparison across France, Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom

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  • Gisela Böhm
  • Hans Rüdiger Pfister
  • Rouven Doran
  • Charles A. Ogunbode
  • Wouter Poortinga
  • Endre Tvinnereim
  • Katharine Steentjes
  • Claire Mays
  • Raquel Bertoldo
  • Marco Sonnberger
  • Nicholas Pidgeon

We present a study of emotional reactions to climate change utilizing representative samples from France, Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom (UK). Drawing on appraisal theories of emotion, we examine relations between appraisals, emotions, and behavioral intentions in the context of climate change. We compare the four countries concerning emotional differences and commonalities and relate our findings to pertinent models of cultural values. Five distinct emotions were measured: worry, hope, fear, outrage, and guilt. In addition, the survey asked respondents to appraise a set of climate-related statements, such as the causality of climate change, or the efficacy of mitigation efforts. Also, a set of climate-relevant actions, such as willingness to reduce energy consumption or support for climate policies, was assessed. Findings show that appraisals of human causation and moral concern were associated with worry and outrage, and appraisals of efficacy and technological solutions were associated with hope. Worry and outrage are associated with intentions to reduce one’s energy consumption, whereas hope and guilt are related to support for policies such as tax and price increases. A country comparison shows that French respondents score high on outrage and worry and tend to engage in individual behaviors to mitigate climate change, whereas Norwegian respondents score high on hope and show a tendency to support policies of cost increase. Generally, worry is the most and guilt the least intense emotion. Moral concerns and perceived collective efficacy of one’s country in addressing climate change are relatively strong in France, while beliefs in human causation and in negative impacts of climate change prevail in Germany, and confidence in technological solutions are prevalent in Norway. In sum, findings reveal typical patterns of emotional responses in the four countries and confirm systematic associations between emotions and appraisals as well as between emotions and behaviors. Relating these findings to models of cultural values reveals that Norway, endorsing secular and egalitarian values, is characterized by hope and confidence in technological solutions, whereas France and Germany, emphasizing relatively more hierarchical and traditional values, are rather characterized by fear, outrage, and support for behavioral restrictions imposed by climate change policies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1139133
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 06.07.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was conducted as part of the “European Perceptions of Climate Change” project, which was funded by the Joint Programme Initiative on Climate Change (JPI-Climate) with associated grants from Cardiff University Sustainable Places Research Institute, School of Psychology and the Economic & Social Research Council, ESRC [grant number ES/M009505/1], France’s Agence Nationale de la Recherche [grant number ANR-14-JCLI-0003], the KLIMAFORSK programme of the Norwegian Research Council [NFR; project number 244904], and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research [grant number 01UV1403]. The project received co-funding from the cooperation agreement between Equinor (formerly Statoil) and the University of Bergen [Akademiaavtale; project number 803589].

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 Böhm, Pfister, Doran, Ogunbode, Poortinga, Tvinnereim, Steentjes, Mays, Bertoldo, Sonnberger and Pidgeon.

    Research areas

  • appraisal theories, climate change, cross-national comparison, emotions, environmental behavior, risk perception, sustainability
  • Business psychology