Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Program Name/Specialization

Social Psychology


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Anne Wilson

Advisor Role



People respond defensively to threatening risk information about the future. For example, people may respond with denial to threatening information about environmental consequences, resulting in inaction which ironically increases the risk. The current thesis was designed to examine individuals’ responses to future climate change risk when under different types and levels of threat. We predicted defensive response under threat, but also sought to investigate a factor that might mitigate defensiveness: reflecting on personally important values. In Study 1 we sought to examine individuals’ responses to a climate risk message after they were induced to feel low or high personal control (which we reasoned might be one way to induce higher or lower levels of threat). We also examined individual differences in environmental importance. Participants who valued environmental issues were able to mobilize and engage in pro-environmental responses when they felt they had low control, whereas those who did not value environmental issues showed somewhat more defensive responding. These differences did not emerge when participants felt high personal control. We speculated that those who were high in environmental importance drew on that value to affirm themselves in the face of more severe threat. Study 2 directly manipulated self-affirmation (using a values reflection task) and climate change threat severity. Non-affirmed participants responded more defensively to severe than mild threat, whereas affirmation eliminated defensiveness and fostered proactive responses under severe threat. Self-affirmation may allow individuals to more accurately evaluate threatening consequences and take action.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season