Numb to the world: Degradation desensitization and environmentally responsible behavior
Before we can understand behavior we must understand its emotional and attitudinal underpinnings. My study seeks to examine the psychological effects of environmental degradation, specifically, whether repeated exposure to environmental degradation may desensitize or numb teenagers to environmental problems and affect the likelihood they will engage in environmentally responsible behavior.
The study was conducted at the International School of Curitiba in Brazil with roughly one hundred forty students, ages 12-18, who were randomly assigned to either a control or an experimental group. During the first stage of the study, students were interviewed individually and in focus groups to gather their perceptions of environmental degradation and environmentally responsible behavior. In the second stage, over the course of several days students in the experimental group watched clips from the film Trashed (2012), a documentary about environmental waste, while students in the control group watched videos of the same length on origami. Students’ heart rates were measured before, during, and after each viewing to assess their physiological response to the videos. Students also completed a survey before and after each viewing to assess their emotional and attitudinal changes before and after each viewing. Finally, students were given juice cartons following each viewing and their recycling behavior with respect to the empty cartons was observed.
Qualitative and quantitative analysis of the children’s heart rates, interviews, and recycling behavior will provide insight as to whether the children were desensitized to environmental degradation and whether the concept of degradation desensitization is a valid phenomenon.