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Psychology, Sustainability, Uncategorized

Do we need to train empathy to achieve sustainability?

It seems that we are constantly looking for the reason why some people will engage in pro-environmental behaviour. Many of the links are tenuous at best. Recent research by Di Fabio and Kenny has explored how empathy connects to connectedness with nature with some promising results.

Di Fabio and Kenny (2021) had Italian workers completing scales relating to personality and connectedness to nature. They found that there were connections between a couple measures of empathy and connectedness to nature. Specifically, agreeableness and openness showed a significant relationship with nature connectedness.

I’m intrigued by this idea as empathy never seems like a bad thing and if it can lead to greater connection with nature that is positive. But I also question whether this would be an association across cultures and what connectedness to nature would actually mean in different contexts. If you don’t see nature as having intrinsic value does empathy change that?

I understand why people want to find a connection with sustainability behaviour: we want to know who to target and how to achieve greater mass support and involvement. But I can’t help but wonder if we are looking for individual traits in a space that is greatly influenced by cultural and societal norms. I have fairly high empathy and connection to nature but I can still struggle to default to seeing humans as part of nature. This separation is embedded in the English language.

I think a connection with empathy is important, particularly as Di Fabio and Kenny point out that empathy can be trained. But is our search for individual traits just ignoring the bigger issue of societal and cultural norms?

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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