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Martijn van Zomeren: does it help to hope for a better world?

Does it help to hope for a better world?

Hope is a positive emotion that, proverbially, springs eternal. Research has shown that hope is good for people, because it keeps a belief in positive change alive, perhaps even against their better judgement, and even when it comes to major problems such as climate change. Having hope and actively contributing to a better world often go hand in hand, is the general belief.

Martijn van Zomeren

Recent experimental research, however, doesn’t seem very hopeful. In three experiments we let more than 1000 American test subjects read a text about climate change that was hopeful or less hopeful, which affected their level of hopefulness. The research question was whether more hope led to a higher willingness to participate in various actions against climate change, such as demonstrations and petitions. We also asked about their willingness to take shorter showers and other forms of sustainable behaviour. The results were very clear: hope didn't help.

Of course, this doesn't mean that it makes no difference if you feel hope. Hope may not help the world, but it does help you: it makes you feel a little better in the context of something negative that seems difficult to change. What the research showed is that hope is not enough to motivate people to take part in demonstrations and petitions, or to shower for a shorter period of time, for example. In a follow-up study, we will look at what else is needed to achieve this.

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Political and Cultural Psychology of Social Relationships
Last modified:09 December 2019 1.24 p.m.
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