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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Content and prevalence of environmentalist stereotypes in Canada : a psychological perspective Williams, Elizabeth A.


What are public perceptions of environmentalists in Canada? Stereotypes, beliefs that members of a group possess certain characteristics, are widely understood and communicated within a culture, even amongst individuals who do not believe them to be representative of the group in question (Jackson, 2011). Research suggests that stereotypes of environmentalists are primarily negative and may impede environmental participation (Bashir, Lockwood, Chasteen, Nadolny, & Noyes, 2013; Minson & Monin, 2012). Yet few studies have assessed environmentalist perceptions of their own in-group stereotypes. The current study builds on previous research by including representation from the environmental community and more broadly from the Canadian population (N = 489). This research uses qualitative and quantitative social psychology methods to explore the content and prevalence of environmentalist stereotypes. Participants completed a survey containing established research scales: New Ecological Paradigm, Stereotype Content Model, System Justification scale, and modified scales on pro-environmental identity. Irrespective of their own environmental attitudes or identity, participants listed highly similar and largely positive words in association with environmentalists. When asked to rate public perceptions of environmentalists, participants provided similar moderate ratings on warmth and competence, and low rating for status. Perceptions of competition between environmentalists and the public, in resources, decision-making, and power, were higher amongst non-environmentalists and varied according to political ideology and province of residence. Patterns in the data also suggest that with regards to environmental attitudes and views about society, both non-environmentalists and strong environmentalists are relatively distinct groups, whereas there is high similarity and possibly fluidity between moderate environmentalists and neutral participants (i.e., neither agreed or disagreed to identifying as an environmentalist). Thus, while environmental attitudes and identity were positively correlated, environmental attitudes only partly predicted environmentalist identity. A better understanding of environmentalist stereotypes may contribute to psychology research on inter-group relations and stereotypes, and may offer insight into resistance to environmental initiatives, thereby improving design for greater public engagement. This information may also help improve understanding of conflict in decision-making processes, and assist in the development of group facilitation and management tools that break down barriers between interest groups, thereby improving collaboration and outcomes in decision-making processes.

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