Motivation and Emotion Header Photo of Young Boy At Sunset By OceanMotivation and Emotion

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Lecture/Discussion Topics

The Role of Emotion

While emotion can be a powerful motivator of behavior change in a sustainable direction (Weber, 2006), it also has the potential to overwhelm or produce psychic numbing. It is important to note that the litany of bad news about environmental crises can trigger students’ defenses or a sense of despair. In addition to the exercises below (i.e., Emotional Impact Statement and Honoring our Pain for the World), instructors may wish to briefly describe some relevant defense mechanisms (Freud, 1936/1946), including denial (of responsibility), rationalization, distancing, and suppression that can serve as protection from the internal conflict generated by knowingly engaging in unsustainable consumption practices (e.g., Stich & Wagner, 2012), and discuss how these can interfere with effective action. How might students redirect their anxiety (i.e., Freudian sublimation)?

Lecture/Discussion Topics

On Fear and Numbing

Macy and Brown (1998) wrote that the greatest contemporary danger is apatheia – “non-suffering – the inability or refusal to experience pain; a deadening of our mind and heart.” Compare this to Robert Lifton’s conception of psychic numbing. Our current problems are so big and unprecedented, they’re hard to believe and very difficult to face; they understandably produce the desire for distraction.  Instructors could review some of Freud’s defense mechanisms, and/or Macy & Brown’s description of several sources of repression, or ask students to identify ways that they avoid engaging with today’s bad news. Note that emotional repression can lead to feelings of alienation and isolation, along with escapist pursuits; i.e., emotion-focused coping; substance use/abuse; it also creates a positive feedback loop, the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer. 

Solutions include:

  • Diverting energy towards direct involvement in solving the problems (Freudian sublimation; problem-focused coping);
  • Mindfulness practices to fully engage with feelings, thoughts, and other experiences;
  • Ecopsychological practices, including connecting with nature;
  • Macy and Brown (1998) recommended the following practices:
    • “Come from Gratitude… to be alive in this time when we can choose to take part in the self-healing of our world.
    • “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark… it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world.,, To suffer with is the literal meaning of compassion.
    • “Dare to Vision … Out of this darkness a new world can arise… from our dreams.
    • “Act your Age… Since every particle in your body goes back to the first flaring forth of space and time, you’re really as old as the universe. So when you are lobbying at your congressperson’s office, or visiting your local utility, or testifying at a hearing on nuclear waste, or standing up to protect an old grove of redwoods, you are doing that not out of some personal whim, but in the full authority of your 15 billion years.”

Lecture/Discussion Topics

Learned Helplessness vs. Self-Efficacy

Describe Seligman’s classic (although ethically problematic) studies on learned helplessness (e.g., reviewed in Maier & Seligman, 1976): In brief, dogs able to escape shock by crossing a barrier become very quick to do so, and eventually become “nonchalant” about the classically conditioned signal for impending shock. Alternatively, dogs who were first exposed to inescapable shock become passive (“lie down, and quietly whine” (p. 4)), even when the contingencies change such that they could cross a barrier to escape. This phenomenon may help explain depression and anxiety in humans.

Ask students to discuss in small groups the implications of learned helplessness for their own and others’ motivation to work for sustainability. Where/how have they learned to feel “helpless”? What needs to happen to overcome learned helplessness?

For instance:

  • When the barrier is removed and they are physically pushed to the safe side, and/or forced over the barrier, dogs exposed to inescapable shock can eventually learn to cross the barrier on their own.
  • When people are struggling with depression, helping them to leave home and re-engage with their lives can be effective, especially if they start with small, easy steps that increase incrementally in difficulty (go to a movie, then to a mall).
  • Based on human resilience studies, Seligman (2007) suggests that early experience with mastery/feeling competent is the best prevention for helplessness.

How might students apply these principles to their own or others’ helplessness regarding environmental issues?

Instructors could then lecture on, or have students relate these ideas to, the concepts of locus of control and self-efficacy, the theory of planned behavior and expectancy theory.

Lecture/Discussion Topics

Go Greek…

Plato and Aristotle described the concept of Eudaimonia: literally, “having a good indwelling spirit, or true well-being.” From this perspective, a person is truly happy and flourishes when he/she lives according to virtues and values, and fulfills his/her potential. This idea parallels Maslow’s concept of self-actualization and the contemporary positive psychology movement, which differs from Maslow in the premise that all humans (rather than an idealized few) have the potential to live “the good life.”  

Positive psychology is both a research emphasis as well as an evidence-based treatment approach (e.g., for depression, anxiety, substance abuse (including eating disorders)), as in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy — a mindfulness-based, values-oriented behavioral approach to accepting “what is out of your personal control, and commit[ting] to action that improves and enriches your life [by] clarify[ing] core values and us[ing] that knowledge to guide, inspire, and motivate committed action” (Kashdan & Ciarrochi, 2013, p. 2).

Seligman (2011) identified five fundamental aspects of well-being, abbreviated with the acronym PERMA:

  • Positive emotions – seeking out and savoring pleasurable emotions, sensations, and experiences, including cultivating a feeling of and expressing gratitude.
  • Engagement – pursuing and becoming absorbed in goals and activities that engage you fully.
  • Relationships – being authentically connected to others by being trustworthy and reliable. Can also include one’s relationship with one’s-self (self-care, self-compassion), with other species, and with nature in general.  
  • Meaning – purposeful existence; connection to something outside/larger than self; being of service.
  • Achievement – a sense of accomplishment and success via setting and reaching goals; related to self-efficacy and awareness of/confidence in one’s strengths.

Discussion could center on how each of these components might promote environmental sustainability, along with subjective well-being. This material could serve as a precursor to the exercise described below, What’s your calling?

The Stockdale Paradox

In a presentation on resilience, Julia Novy-Hildesley, Director of Resilience in Action described the Stockdale Paradox, named for a prisoner of war in Vietnam who was able to fully connect with and accept the reality of his situation, and yet maintain hope; he survived. His comrades who didn’t connect with their experiences, or who lost hope, perished. The moral of the story is certainly relevant to sustainability work: “You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. AND at the same time… You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be” (Newitz, 2013). Novy-Hildesley concluded her presentation by saying, “Change is hard; the only thing harder is not doing it!”

Will You Choose Cynicism or Hope?

Cycles of Cynicism Cycles of Hope
1. Find out about a problem. 1. Find out about a problem.
2. Want to help. 2. Want to help.
3. Don’t see how you can help. 3. Take personal responsibility for your part in perpetuating the problem, and create a vision for a better world.
4. Don’t do anything about it. 4. Seek out quality information about the problem.
5. Feel sad, powerless, angry. 5. Explore practical options for action.
6. Decide that nothing can be done. 6. Start changing your actions to align with your values.
7. Begin shutting down. 7. Feel empowered, enlivened, engaged.
8. Want to know less about the problem. 8. Inspire others to join you in creating a better world.
Repeat until apathy results. Repeat until better world results.

(From Kim Smith; Adapted from Jones, Haenfler & Johnson, 2007).

Lecture/Discussion Topics

Love It and/or Hate It? Affective Evaluations Of Wilderness

Wilderness preservation has been a primary goal of environmental advocates for more than a century. At the end of the nineteenth century, Sierra Club founder John Muir promoted protection of intact wild places because of the spiritual, aesthetic, and recreational benefits they hold for people. A few decades later, as scientists learned more about ecology, individuals such as Aldo Leopold (1949) preached preservation from a less anthropocentric perspective, encouraging protection of nature for its own sake. As human cultures grow increasingly more urban, industrialized, and separated from wilderness– and as wilderness areas become fewer and farther between- the idea of wilderness preservation becomes more abstract. How do individuals in contemporary urban settings feel about wilderness? Research on people’s affective reactions to wilderness suggests a deep ambivalence; we feel positively toward wild nature because of the free and untamed life force it represents, while at the same time we feel disgust and fear about the uncontrolled and threatening aspects of it (Koole & Van den Berg, 2005; Van den Berg & ter Heijne, 2005). For example, Bixler & Floyd (1997) surveyed 450 suburban and rural eighth grade students and found that participants high in fear expectancy, disgust sensitivity, and desire for modern comforts expressed a preference for cultivated and manicured nature rather than wild nature. Koole & Van den Berg (2005) investigated humans’ ambivalence toward wilderness within a Terror Management Theory (TMT) framework. TMT provides a theoretical analysis of how humans deal with their awareness of their own mortality (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991; 2004). According to TMT, we think and behave in ways that distance us from our existential fear. When we are confronted with the threat of death, we become more motivated to increase this emotional distance. For example, participants who were reminded of death were more likely to distance themselves perceptually and emotionally from other animals (Goldenberg, et al., 2001). Participants in Koole & Van den Berg’s studies were more likely to associate both death and freedom with wilderness than with cultivated nature. When reminded of death (by completing a ” fear of death” inventory), participants were more likely to show a preference for cultivated nature. It is not clear from empirical research whether people’s fears of wilderness are related to their willingness to behave in ways that protect it.

Affect And Conservation: Do We Protect What We Like?

Are people more likely to support conservation of animals they find appealing? Some research suggests this is the case. Gunnthorsdottir (2001) presented college age participants with a species protection flyer featuring either no picture of an animal, an attractive picture of an animal (either a bat or an ape), or an unattractive picture of an animal (also a bat or an ape). Support for species protection was significantly higher among the participants who saw an attractive picture. Interestingly, in a second study, Gonnthorsdottir found that simply being described as ” endangered” increased perceptions of an animal’s attractiveness. (See Tisdell, Wilson, & Nantha, 2005, for a more complex analysis of the relationship between like-ability of mammals, birds, and reptiles and people’s willingness to pay to protect them.) Kals and Mays (2002) argue that emotion has been neglected as a significant factor in predicting and encouraging sustainable behaviors in general.

Affect Heuristic

Students will easily relate to the idea that emotions are an important influence on memory (we more readily recall emotionally significant events). Emotions are also powerful influences in decision making, and may be more influential than rational assessments. For instance, the affect heuristic leads people to misjudge potential hazards: if they enjoy an activity, they judge the risks low and the benefits high. If they dislike an activity, they do the opposite, judging the risk as high and the benefits low (Slovic, et al., 2002). Have students generate some personal examples of both sides of the affect heuristic, e.g., in small group discussions.

For instance, someone who enjoys eating meat (positive affect) will tend to downplay the health and environmental risks more than someone who doesn’t like the taste of meat. Likewise, people who have positive associations with wood fires underestimate the health risks of wood smoke (including serious respiratory, developmental, and immune dysfunction), and are less likely to support regulating wood burning to restore air quality.

Relative Deprivation In The Material World

Relative to billions of people in the world, American college students are not deprived. Their basic needs for food and shelter are met. They have a wealth of material goods besides. Still, students (like most members of American society) tend to suffer at least ocassionally from a sense of relative deprivation (e. g., they may have clothes, but they aren’t the clothes they wish they had). Instructors can provoke students into thinking critically about their own feelings of relative deprivation by highlighting the stark contrast between the students’ abundance and the poverty of others. A great visual aid is the photojournalist Peter Menzel’s (1995) book Material World: A Global Family Portrait. Sixteen photographers traveled to thirty countries to photograph demographically ” average” families surrounded by all of their material possessions in front of their shelter. The book includes statistics about the countries and about the families, including telling facts such as the amount of the household income that goes to food and each family member’s most prized possession. For samples of the book’s content, visit the PBS “World in the Balance” website. Ask students to consider what their own photograph would look like. Does awareness that others are the relatively deprived ones alter the students perception of what they have, want, and need? How do they feel when confronted with the fact that the deprivation of others is tied to their own wealth and (over) consumption? What do students think motivates their own material consumption in spite of having their material needs met? One possible explanation for our drive to consume and collect is that it serves a terror management function (Arndt, Solomon, Kasser, & Sheldon, 2004; Kasser & Sheldon, 2000).

What Motivates Voluntary Simplicity?

Our students are fascinated by people who have intentionally dropped out of the consumer whirlwind of modern culture. There is some psychological research on what motivates some lifestyle pioneers toward voluntary simplicity. “Voluntary simplicity” generally refers to

the choice out of free will, rather than by being coerced by poverty, government austerity programs, or being imprisoned, to limit expenditures on consumer goods and services, and to cultivate non-materialistic sources of satisfaction and meaning (Etzioni, 1998, p. 620).

Although what exactly constitutes a voluntary simplicity lifestyle is up for debate, researchers have found some common motivations among individuals who move in this direction (Craig-Lees & Hill, 2002). Degenhardt (2002) concluded that the primary motivation for the adoption of a more sustainable lifestyle was “emotional consternation.” Others have found that commitment to a simplicity lifestyle is related to individuals’ ethical sense of ecological social responsibility (Huneke, 2005; Shaw & Newholm, 2002, 2003).

What Motivates Vegetarianism?

One critical component of a sustainable future will be the reduction of meat consumption by humans. Though much of the world is primarily vegetarian, a vegetarian diet is atypical in the United States and Western Europe. Perhaps this is why some Western psychologists have felt compelled to examine the motivations underlying the choice to eat a vegetarian diet. During the heyday of psychoanalytic thinking within the U.S. psychiatric community, Psychiatric Quarterly Supplement published an article in which the author concluded that the “odd” behavior of vegetarianism is an example of a Freudian reaction formation in which the vegetarian who claims to be an animal lover actually possesses underlying cruel and sadistic tendencies (Barahal, 1946). Certainly, vegetarianism has become a much more mainstream option since, and the idea that it represents latent psychopathology would not be popular today; however, a few researchers continue to question the motivation behind the choice. For example, Rozin, Markworth, and Stoess (1997) suggest that some vegetarians have experienced the process of “moralization,” in which a previously morally neutral behavior (i. e., eating meat) becomes a behavior with moral implications. These researchers compared “moral vegetarians” to “health vegetarians” (whose choice was motivated purely by health concerns) and found that moral vegetarians were more disgusted by meat and exhibited a more elaborate set of justifications for their choice to avoid it. Fessler, Arquello, Mekdara, and Macias (2003) predicted that if disgust is the emotional precedent for a moral rationale for meat avoidance, then individuals more prone to disgust should tend to eat less meat; however, their survey of more than 900 adults revealed a positive correlation rather than an inverse relationship between disgust sensitivity and meat consumption. The researchers speculate that the emotion of disgust is a consequence of anti-meat moral beliefs instead of a precursor to them. See Becker, Kals, and Frö hlich (2004) for a discussion of motivations for meat consumption.

Emotion In Nonhuman Animals

Ask students whether they think nonhuman animals experience emotion and chances are that the dog owners will say “yes!” (and they may be joined by at least a few of their non-dog-owning peers). Psychological research on emotion has traditionally focused on humans, but scholars are increasingly turning their attention to affect in nonhuman animals and Comparative Cognition is a growing field. For example, Deborah Wells, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology at Queen’s University in Ireland studied six lowland gorillas at the Belfast zoo. Wells (2005) found that when visitors were present the gorillas appeared to become anxious and agitated, in contrast to their relaxed demeanor during non-visiting hours. In 2005, the Compassion in World Farming Trust organized a conference in London called “From Darwin to Dawkins: The science and implications of animal sentience.” Scholars presented research on an array of animal affect including cows’ displays of joy, chimpanzees’ compassionate caretaking, and friendships among sheep. Students will likely be interested in the work of behavioral ecologist and prolific author Marc Bekoff (e.g., 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2017). Bekoff is the regional coordinator of Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program, and collaborated with Goodall to found Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (EETA). Scientific skepticism about emotion in nonhuman animals has long been tied to the issue of measurement: how can we know what an animal is experiencing when we cannot communicate with that animal? Paul, Harding, & Mendl (2005) countered that emotion can be assessed using nonlinguistic cognitive measures based on known links between emotion and cognitive functioning in humans. Bekoff and Pierce (2017) argued that it is time “to rethink how we affect other animals, both unintentionally and intentionally, and evolve toward more peaceful ways of interacting with our animal kin in an increasingly human-dominated world.”


Affect, Emotion, and Coping

Have students view a few bleak climate commercials (some suggestions follow), and note their coping reaction. Why are these clips potentially problematic?  Choose one of the clips and spend 10-15 minutes, in pairs or groups of three, redesigning it to evoke a problem-focused coping response.

Train ad:

Baby in bathtub:

Tick tick:

Don’t give up:

Bedtime stories:


Assessing Affect Toward Nonhuman Nature

Bixler and Floyd (1997) surveyed 450 suburban and rural eighth grade students and found that participants high in fear expectancy, disgust sensitivity, and desire for modern comforts expressed a preference for cultivated and manicured nature rather than wild nature, preferred indoor to outdoor recreation, and were more likely to desire an indoor career. Bixler and Floyd’s measure of nature-related fear expectancy included items such as “getting lost” and “seeing a snake. ” Disgust sensitivity was measure with “mild” items (e. g., “Getting itchy from bug bites and scrapes,” “Accidentally stepping in mud around a pond”) and “strong” items (e. g., “Finding a tick biting my scalp,”  “Accidentally stepping in animal droppings”). Desire for modern comforts included both indoor items (e. g., flush toilets) and outdoor items ( e. g., insect repellent). Dependent measures included a “Recreation Activity Preference Scale” (i. e., preference for indoor vs. outdoor recreation) and a “Future Work Environments” scale (i. e., desire to work indoors or outdoors). Introduce students to this study and ask them to brainstorm other behaviors that might be related to fear of nature, disgust for nature, and desire for modern comforts. These could include efforts to protect wilderness (e. g., contributing to environmental groups, reducing personal contributions to water and air pollution), lifestyle choices (e. g., choosing to live in established areas instead of new developments, maintaining a yard garden of native species rather than a manicured lawn), food preferences (e. g., opting for farm-fresh but imperfect organic fruit vs. aesthetically ideal fruit grown with pesticides), etc. (If you have time, have students choose a subset of these behaviors and a subset of Bixler & Floyd’s items and administer them to a sample of their peers. Calculate correlations and see if any of their hypothesized associations are supported.)


Motivational Interviewing

The approach of motivational interviewing  is useful in confronting addictions, including unsustainable actions. In pairs, students can respond to the following questions and reflect on any ambivalence they might have about changing to more sustainable practices. This could be a good prequel to any self-change project.  

Sample Motivational Interviewing Questions

  1. “Can we talk about your addiction to _______________ (eating meat or junk food; compulsive shopping; etc)?
  2. “What makes you think it might be beneficial to change that behavior?
  3. “What will likely happen if you don’t change the behavior?  
  4. “What’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t change the behavior?
  5. “How confident are you that you can change the behavior?

Listeners can practice reflective listening techniques: I get the impression that…; It sounds like you’re concerned about…; So on the one hand…. But on the other hand…


Emotional Impact Statement

Reflective essay prompt: Consider your thoughts, emotions, and behavior as you read/learn about the various ecological problems facing humanity, and write a short paper (~ 1-2 pages, double spaced) describing what you learned about yourself. Here are some questions you may wish to answer:

  • Thoughts: Did you skim the material, thinking “I already know all this?” Did you question or doubt the content in the chapter?  Was your curiosity aroused: “Really?  I need to look into that…”
  • Emotions: Did you feel excited by the potential for creating a new and more sustainable community or world? Did you feel sad or overwhelmed? Did you feel angry? Surprised?
  • Behaviors: What did you do with your reactions?  Distract yourself with the internet, TV, or your text messages? Did you crawl into a bag of potato chips or crack open a beer? Did you call a friend to talk about the thoughts and feelings you were having about our environmental crisis?  Did you investigate environmental groups you could join?


Honoring our Pain for the World

(Adapted from Macy & Brown, 1998; See also Work that Reconnects for many other potential class activites)

Have students sit in pairs, facing each other, close enough to fully attend to each other. Ask them to choose who will act as Partner A/B (e.g., Partner A’s last name comes earlier in the alphabet). Instruct students that they will be given a prompt, and Partner A should repeat the prompt and complete the open sentence, speaking spontaneously until the end of the allotted time.  Emphasize that the Listener should remain completely silent, offering open and supportive body language, and being mindfully present with his/her own and Partner’s feelings and thoughts. Allow 1-2 minutes for each sentence, observing the group’s momentum. Give a bit of warning before it is time to move on (“Take a moment to wrap up your thought”), and allow a brief rest before giving the next prompt. You can have students switch roles after each sentence, or allow one person to complete all sentences before switching.

Some suggested prompts follow; feel free to make up your own, but attempt to keep them unbiased and non-leading:

  1. “I think the condition of our society is becoming…”
  2. “When I think of the world we will leave our children, it looks like…”
  3. “What concerns me most about the world today is…”
  4.  “When I think about the condition of our planet, I feel…”
  5. “Ways I avoid these feelings include…”
  6. “Ways I express (or use) these feelings are…”
  7. “What I appreciate about living in this time and place is…”
  8. “As I look at my life, I believe I am taking part in the healing of the world by…”



The Fostering Resilience Project identifies seven building blocks of resilience training, e.g., for children and youth (see their website for more detail):

  • Competence
  • Confidence
  • Connection
  • Character (integrity)
  • Contribution to the well-being of others/the world
  • Coping
  • Control (self-efficacy)

Ask students to identify ways in which they have experienced each of the seven. How might they connect those experiences to building motivation to work for sustainability in themselves and in others?



What’s Your Calling?

“To find our calling is to find the intersection between our own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger” (attributed to Frederick Buechner).

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive” (attributed to Howard Thurman).

Self-determination and intrinsic reinforcers are powerful motivators. Ask students to respond to the following prompts in their course journal or in a reaction paper, and perhaps follow up with small group discussions to discern connections between their callings and sustainability work (Adapted from Kessel (n.d.) and Pavlina, 2005).

  1. Notice what captivates you. What do you read in your spare time? What most excites or enrages you? If you were to write a letter to the editor of your local paper, what would you write about? Why?
  2. Inventory your life. Have you responded to “callings” before? I.e., something you felt compelled to do, even if it was challenging, difficult, or unpleasant? What did you learn from those experiences? Does anything you began feel unfinished?
  3. Journal. “Write at the top of a piece of paper, ‘What is my true purpose in life?’ Write any answer(s) that pops into your head. A short phrase is fine; it doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. Keep writing until an answer makes you cry. This is your purpose. If some give you a ‘mini-surge of emotion,’ they’re not quite right; highlight those, and keep going. If you’re a nihilist, feel free to start with the answer, ‘I don’t have a purpose,’ or ‘Life is meaningless,’ and take it from there. If you keep at it, you’ll eventually discover your calling” (Pavlina, 2005).
  4. Ask others. What have your friends and family noticed about your passions? What do they see as your calling? Pay attention to their responses, and notice when you feel an internal “YES!”
  5. Use your values as a guide. Make a list of your core values – i.e., what makes you, you; what guides your decisions and behavior; what is most important to you in life?  How are you honoring those values in your life right now? How do these values inform your calling



Perceived Behavioral Control

Behavioral control, an important aspect of the Theory of Planned Behavior, is impacted by situational constraints. Ask students to identify a pro-environmental behavior that they would like to engage in, but that is made difficult by aspects of the existing infrastructure.

Have students write a letter to college administrators, the city council, or other governing bodies who oversee that infrastructure, making a case for the changes that are needed to promote the behavior.  You might also encourage students to attend a City Council meeting. If your students live near your state’s capital, perhaps they could attend or plan an “environmental lobby day,” where constituents speak to their state or federal senators and representatives about environmentally-relevant legislation.



Outrageous Hope

In an article called, “Outrageous Hope,” Gary Pace (2014) describes an area of the Northern California coast that was going to be the site of a nuclear energy facility – until a coalition of “citizens and scientists collected signatures, filed lawsuits, wrote letters, and appeared at hearings ranging from Sonoma County to Washington, D.C.,” (p. 314). It took eight years, but the coalition prevailed and the Bodega Headlands remain a scenic park. Pace pays homage to the activists’ efforts and “something that never came to pass,” based on the “outrageous hope” that their efforts could overcome the wealthy and influential energy company’s plans.

Ask students to brainstorm other developments that they hope will never occur (e.g., the Keystone XL Pipeline, coal and oil exports from the Pacific Northwest, or specific impacts of climate change), and imagine that activists will be successful in blocking those occurrences.  Then, from the perspective of their future selves, write a thank you letter to those activists. Students could describe what it took, what personal sacrifices were made, and what they are enjoying as a result of those actions. Finally, have students describe what role they themselves are willing to commit to playing. (Adapted from Bigelow & Swinehart, 2014.)

Multimedia Resources

Website: The Positive Psychology Center

The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania “promotes research, training, education, and the dissemination of Positive Psychology, resilience, and grit.”

Website: The Meatrix

Designed as a spoof of the popular “Matrix” films, this website addresses the history and current conditions of factory farming. It serves well as a starter for a lecture or discussion about motivations away from a meat-intensive diet. See The Meatrix and The Meatrix II: Revolting at

Website and Film: Compassionate Conservation

The emerging field of Compassionate Conservation promotes the consideration of animal welfare in a conservation context. See related work by Carl Safina, including his 2016 TEDx Talk.

Film: Shop ‘Til You Drop: The Crisis of Consumerism

This film examines the negative aspects of our society’s pursuit of happiness through consumerism, exposing the erosion of natural resources and basic human values that stem from our buying habits. Experts from a variety of fields weigh in on this subject and provide insight into its far reaching consequences and causes. See a description of the film here. This film has both 90- and 50-minute versions.

Film: Escape From Affluenza

This hour-long film is a sequel to the film “Affluenza” (described on the Individual Differences page of this site). It features individuals who have voluntarily opted for a simplicity lifestyle by reducing consumption, shedding possessions, and slowing down. This film would work well in conjunction with a lecture or discussion about research on motivations for voluntary simplicity lifestyles. Click here for a description on the Bullfrog Films website.

Suggested Readings For Students

Bekoff, M., Ed. (2012). Animal emotions & animal sentience and why they matter: blending ‘science sense’ with common sense, compassion and heart. In Animals, Ethics, and Trade (pp. 53-66). Routledge.

Bekoff, M., Ed. (2013). Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Jessie (2018).  Why you don’t care about climate change. Available at

Kals, E., & Mays, J. (2002). Sustainable development and emotions. In P. Schmuck & P. W. Schultz (Eds.), Psychology of sustainable development (pp. 97-122). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.

Lifton, R. J. (2014, Aug. 23). The Climate Swerve. The New York Times. 

Worrall, S. (2015, July 15). Yes, animals think and feel. Here’s how we know. National Geographic Online.

References Cited In This Section

Arndt, J., Solomon, S., Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. M. (2004). The urge to splurge: A terror management account of materialism and consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14, 198-212.

Barahal, H. (1946). The cruel vegetarian. Psychiatric Quarterly Supplement, 20, 3-13.

Becker, R., Kals, E., & Frö hlich, P. (2004). Meat consumption and commitments on meat policy: Combining indivdiual and public health. Journal of Health Psychology, ., 143-155.

Bekoff, M. (2002). Minding animals: Awareness, emotions, and heart. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bekoff, M. (2005). The question of animal emotions: An ethological perspective. In F. McMillan (Ed.), Mental health and well-being in animals (pp. 15-27). Ames, IA: Blackwell.

Bekoff, M. (2008). The emotional lives of animals: A leading scientist explores animal joy, sorrow, and empathy – and why they matter. San Francisco: New World Library.

Bekoff, M. (2010). The animal manifesto: Six reasons for expanding our compassion footprint. San Francisco: New World Library.

Bekoff, M., Ed. (2012). Animal emotions & animal sentience and why they matter: blending ‘science sense’ with common sense, compassion and heart. In Animals, Ethics, and Trade (pp. 53-66). Routledge.

Bekoff, M. (2017). The animals’ agenda: Freedom, compassion, and coexistence in the human age. Boston: Beacon Press.

Bigelow, B. & Swinehart, T. (2014). A people’s curriculum for the earth: Teaching climate change and the environmental crisis. (pp. 315 & 325). Milwaukee WI: Rethinking Schools.

Bixler, R. D., & Floyd, M. F. (1997). Nature is scary, disgusting, and uncomfortable. Environment and Behavior, 29, 443-467.

Craig-Lees, M., & Hill, C. (2002). Understanding voluntary simplifiers. Psychology & Marketing, 19, 187-210.

Degenhardt, L. (2002). Why do people act in sustainable ways? Results of an empirical study of lifestyle pioneers. In P. Schmuck & W. P. Schultz (Eds.), Psychology of sustainable development (pp. 123-147). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.

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