June 16, 2011
WOOSTER, Ohio — Does national identity encourage environmental stewardship? Susan Clayton, professor of psychology at The College of Wooster, thinks it might, and she is going to the ends of the earth to explore the question.
Last month, Clayton traveled to the Republic of Turkey at the invitation of a colleague to learn more about a potential link in that country. The trip was funded by the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey. “We need to understand the cultural context for concerns about the environment,” she said. “Looking at environmental attitudes in different cultures provides an opportunity to better understand how these attitudes are developed and how to effectively educate people about environmental issues.”
The author of Conservation Psychology and editor of Human Ecology Review, Clayton shared her research with graduate students and faculty members at three universities in Turkey. “People have strong emotional responses to the natural world and to their own local environments,” she said. “We are interested in knowing how they understand environmental threats and how their own behavior can upset the balance of nature.”
Clayton believes the field of psychology can play a pivotal role in developing effective responses to environmental problems. “To understand human response to these problems, we need to consider psychological research,” she said. “How do people perceive the situation; how do they respond; and how can we change behavior?”
Clayton and her colleague surveyed 800 Turkish nationals about their environmental concerns and their feelings of national identity. They found that pride in being a Turkish citizen was associated not only with support for Turkish cultural beliefs that value the environment, but also with more pro-environmental behavior. In addition, people who identified with the natural world were more likely to say that the Turkish government was responsible for protecting it. In other words, understanding how people feel about their nation is relevant to understanding their responses to the environment.
As part of her trip, Clayton gave a workshop primarily for graduate students. Her message included helpful tips for conducting research, communicating results, and getting studies published so that they can contribute to general scientific understanding. Her experience teaching research and writing skills to College of Wooster students for their Independent Study projects provided plenty of examples to share with the Turkish students.
Ultimately, Clayton is hoping that her trip to Turkey will promote more research on environmental attitudes and environmental education. “Our objective is to encourage cross-cultural attention to the psychological aspects of environmental problems,” said Clayton. “Then we can use the educational channels that work best in each culture to promote environmentally sustainable behavior.”
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