Alana Tartaro’s environmental activism manifested in many ways during her time at Haverford. She served on (and eventually chaired) the on the Committee for Environmental Responsibility for three years, worked with the Council for Sustainability and Social Responsibility, participated in the Climate Change Walk, and traveled to Trinidad and Tobago for an experiential learning trip with her “Economic Botany” class. So it seemed obvious that the psychology major and environmental studies minor would use her senior thesis to explore an issue related to the field.
“I was particularly interested in the role hope plays in environmental activism because many environmental problems seem somewhat hopeless,” says Tartaro. “Logically if there no hope of ameliorating these problems people should not be motivated to work towards solving them.”
After taking a junior seminar on environmental psychology with Associate Professor Benjamin Le, Tartaro chose the social psychologist to advise her work, and she appreciated the freedom that he gave her as she worked on research that eventually became her thesis, “Turning off the Lights at the End of the World: An Examination of Hope, Environmental Identity and Pro-Environmental Behavior.”
“Ben allowed me to essentially come up with my topic and hypotheses entirely on me own, providing guidance only where it was most necessary,” she said. “I especially appreciated Ben’s technical guidance in creating the surveys I used in my research and statistically analyzing my results.”
What is your biggest takeaway from the project?
I think that my largest takeaway is that I now believe I am capable of conducting psychological research myself. I had a number of significant results which were in line with my hypotheses, if not entirely in support of them. Seeing these gave me some belief in the power of psychological research and my own abilities. My key takeaways from the research are that: Hope does not seem to play a huge role in motivating pro-environmental behavior, but it is positively associated with pro-environmental behavior. Also, messages of hope and hopelessness can impact hope. Moreover, environmental identity, or the extent to which one thinks of aspects of the environment as part of the self, is positively associated with hope regarding environmental issues. Finally, the connection between environmental identity and hope is likely due to a self- enhancing bias.
What are the implications for your thesis research?
The results mentioned above have several implications. First, activists should focus on variables such as attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control instead of hope when trying to elicit pro-environmental behavior. Second, messages of hope can be used to influence hope. Third, environmental identity, despite the grief that might accompany environmental loss or the threat of environmental loss, is not associated with hopelessness. Consequently, encouraging attachment to the environment is not necessarily setting people up only for hopelessness later on.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.