Attentional engagement with climate change is an important precondition for intentional climate-friendly behavior. However, not much is known about the determinants of an individuals' implicit willingness to attend to this global problem. This study investigates two potentially relevant predictors of implicit attention to climate change: a) pro-environmental orientation as a trait factor and b) experimentally induced stress as a state factor. We expected positive effects of pro-environmental orientation and negative effects of stress.
Seventy-one male participants with either high or low pro-environmental orientation were randomly assigned to a stress or control condition. Afterwards, they viewed a series of climate change images and negative control images, which were presented simultaneously with positive and neutral distractors. Attentional deployment to the different stimulus categories was assessed using eye-tracking technology.
Participants with high pro-environmental orientation spent more time looking at climate change as well as other negative images, compared to participants with low pro-environmental orientation. This result suggests that pro-environmental individuals might be characterized by a general propensity to attend to negative information. Furthermore, stress reduced attentional deployment to both climate change and negative control images, which might indicate decreased interest in self-transcendent problems and/or increased efforts of emotion regulation under stress. In summary, these findings constitute first evidence for trait and state predictors of attentional engagement with climate change.