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Reflecting on Sacrifices Made by Past Generations Increases a Sense of Obligation Towards Future Generations.

Authors
  • Watkins, Hanne M1
  • Goodwin, Geoffrey P2
  • 1 University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA.
  • 2 University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA.
Type
Published Article
Journal
Personality & social psychology bulletin
Publication Date
Jul 01, 2020
Volume
46
Issue
7
Pages
995–1012
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1177/0146167219883610
PMID: 31743077
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

Abstract

Tackling climate change presents an intergenerational dilemma: People must make sacrifices today, to benefit future generations. What causes people to feel an obligation to benefit future generations? Past research has suggested "intergenerational reciprocity" as a potential driver, but this research is quite domain specific, and it is unknown how well it applies to climate change. We explored a novel means of invoking a sense of intergenerational reciprocity: inducing reflection on the sacrifices made by previous generations. Our studies revealed that such reflection predicts and causes a heightened sense of moral obligation towards future generations, mediated by gratitude. However, there are also some downsides (e.g., feelings of unworthiness), and perceptions of obligation do not substantially affect pro-environmental attitudes or motivations. Thus, while reflecting on past generations' sacrifices can generate a sense of intergenerational obligation, it is limited in the extent to which it can increase pro-environmental concern.

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