Optimism about the Climate: a Double-Edged Sword?




Associate Professor of Psychology

Project Summary

This summer, I worked for Dr. Geoffrey Goodwin, studying people’s understanding of and motivation to help the natural environment. I worked on two projects relating to environmental psychology. In one project, we investigated how people’s motivation to leave a legacy is related to people’s motivation to help the environment. While there have been previous studies exploring this phenomenon, this project was unique because we separated measures of legacy motivation into different conceptual categories. We looked at whether different categories of legacy motivations had different relationships to pro-environmental action. In the other project, we investigated the relationship between people’s perceptions of the risk of climate change and their perceptions of how much control humans have over climate change, both individually and collectively. We created a scale to measure people’s belief that society will make an effort to stop climate change, and looked at how that affected the relationship between perceptions of environmental risk and control. 


In order to contribute to this project, for the first few weeks, I read many current environmental psychology papers and helped to brainstorm project ideas. Once we had formulated ideas for studies we could run, I helped to create surveys to run on participants in Qualtrics, an online survey-designing program. We ran a total of five surveys throughout the summer.


I learned a lot from my PURM project this summer. First, I learned some very practical skills from this experience such as designing surveys in Qualtrics and analyzing data using SPSS. Second, by reading many environmental psychology papers, I have gained a better understanding of the current findings and questions in this field. Third, I believe that this experience helped to develop my general understanding of the research process. For instance, I now better understand how to come up with interesting research questions, and how to best investigate those questions. I believe that working on my PURM project has greatly contributed to my educational experience at Penn. Because I enjoyed this project so much, I will continue working for Dr. Goodwin as a research assistant this fall. This project has also inspired me to take a statistics course this fall and to continue pursuing my interest in psychology in the future.