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New research project will discover whether children can inspire adults to tackle climate change

Publish date: March 23, 2022

World-renowned psychologist Professor Geoff Beattie will head up a new project assessing whether using children as role models can convince adults in the North West to live more sustainably.

Professor Beattie and fellow Psychology Lecturer Dr Laura McGuire created a film funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council featuring Kirkby schoolchildren. It documents the children’s journey as they engage with climate change messages and start to behave more sustainably.

The film will now be shown to adult audiences in the Northwest as part of The Great Community Climate Change Experiment which will assess whether the voices and actions of local children are more effective at convincing adults to change their own implicit attitudes and behaviour.

Image of overflowing bin

Professor Beattie says: “If urgent action against climate change is going to be effective, we have to learn how best to convince people to make changes to their everyday lives and live more sustainably. As a psychologist I know all too well that bringing about long-term behaviour change is incredibly challenging.

“One of the major problems with climate change is the feeling that we personally can’t do anything that will actually make a difference. We want to use the children in the film as ambassadors and role models. They felt empowered after their creative arts programme led by Dr McGuire, and we think that their empowerment could impact on the feelings of learned helplessness in the adults.”

It is hoped that by using children from the community to promote meaningful sustainable actions it will have a much greater effect. Professor Beattie and his team will then evaluate the effects using new innovative psychological measures of underlying implicit attitudes to sustainability.

“So, what we want to find out in this project is whether people are more likely to alter their behaviour once they’ve seen children from their own community change because of increased emotional engagement with climate change through the creative arts. It’s a very local angle on climate change, with a very high-level goal – making significant changes in attitudes to sustainability.”

Supporting the project is Economics Professor Christopher Dent and SustainNet, Edge Hill’s network community set up in 2020 to advance sustainability both on campus and throughout the region on four interconnected fronts – research, education, student engagement and local community partnership. 

The entire project has been made possible thanks to a grant from the British Academy’s Shared Understandings of a Sustainable Future, which funds projects examining a people-centred transition to Net Zero and sustainability.

Professor Beattie will also be taking part in an upcoming roundtable discussion organised by the British Academy on 24 March from 2.45pm to 4.15pm. This roundtable – chaired by Professor Sir Tim Besley – is initiating a new discussion on the choices our society has in adapting and enabling a purposeful transition to Net Zero as part of a sustainable future.

The event is a chance for academics supported by the British Academy to share research, experience, and fresh insights, using a people-centred, inter-disciplinary approach and will feature talks on the changing role of business in society, the long-term societal impact of Covid-19, transitions, nature-based solutions, and a range of new emerging research.

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