Think about a river. Now, imagine that river is one you know. Maybe it’s near your home, or perhaps it’s in a place you’ve visited. Take it a step further: That river is now the water source that nourishes your community. It is the reason your backyard garden yields juicy tomatoes. As you moved through this thought exercise, the psychological distance between you and the river likely lessened. Did that make you feel more connected to the river? It probably did, according to new research by Northeastern psychology and environmental science researchers. And, they found, that also makes you more likely to want to take care of the river ecosystem and prevent or clean up pollution there.
“It really matters, the way people understand and represent what they know about the world,” says John Coley, professor of psychology at Northeastern and first author on the paper published in the journal, Land. “So what we sought to show is that the degree to which people saw the relationship between humans and nature as reciprocal or as one-sided had implications for things like stewardship. Those who had this more reciprocal model indicated more likelihood to invest, more willingness to be a steward of the environment.”
Solutions to environmental issues are “often not technically difficult,” says Brian Helmuth, professor of marine and environmental sciences. “The tricky part comes in to get the buy-in from people and in the willingness to act.”