Individuals often avoid information that may be negative or unpleasant. For example, they may avoid getting tested for a disease or avoid obtaining information related to their disease risk despite the fact that early knowledge can often increase the efficacy of treatment. What leads individuals to avoid information, and are there factors that can reduce this resistance? Much of the research on information avoidance has been conducted in the context of health, examining how individuals manage potentially negative health-related information. Building on these theoretical and empirical findings, this research project will extend into the environmental domain and examine the psychology of "environmental information avoidance," or people's failure to seek out or even actively avoid information about climate change and other environmental threats. Individuals may engage in environmental information avoidance (a) to minimize unpleasant emotions, such as dread, worry, or hopelessness; (b) to avoid feelings of personal responsibility and guilt that might compel them to take undesired environmental actions (or refrain from desired actions); or (c) to avoid pressure to abandon or revise cherished personal beliefs that environmental information might call into question. In addition, people may avoid information about environmental threats as part of a strategic strategy designed to persuade themselves that such threats are in fact not worrisome. Eleven studies will experimentally test factors that contribute to information avoidance as well as those that decrease this effect.

This research project responds to recent calls for behavioral scientists to address the "human" side of climate change. Its results are expected to be useful for advancing basic psychological theory. It may also assist in the development of theoretically grounded, evidence-based approaches to better understand why different people react in markedly different ways to information about possible threats in environmental and other domains. Better knowledge regarding how individuals seek and respond to information about the environment may help in the formulation of educational plans and policies. Because human choice and behavior play an important role in environmental problems, a consideration of human psychology can be an important part of the solution. Because this project will be conducted at a predominantly undergraduate institution, it will provide opportunities to involve many undergraduate students meaningfully in psychological research, preparing them for graduate study in psychology and other behavioral sciences.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Steven J. Breckler
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Williams College
United States
Zip Code