Researcher study how national identity can promote pro-ecological attitudes

Chorzow, March 29, 2022. A fan of the Polish national team during the final play-off match with Sweden for the World Cup qualification. PAP/Zbigniew Meissner
Chorzow, March 29, 2022. A fan of the Polish national team during the final play-off match with Sweden for the World Cup qualification. PAP/Zbigniew Meissner

National identity plays a key role in promoting pro-ecological attitudes, which are necessary to fight the climate crisis, scientists from Poland and New Zealand have found.

Writing in the journal PLOS Climatethe researchers argue that understanding the relationship between a sense of national identity and the attitude towards pro-ecological behaviours and policies may facilitate the development of effective pro-ecological measures.

Previous studies conducted in New Zealand indicate that a strong national identity can mobilize pro-environmental behaviour. Almost 90% of New Zealanders incorporate pro-environmental attitudes into their national identity.

However, a strong national identity does not necessarily translate into stronger environmental readiness. When national identity is linked to reliance on sources of energy that the society perceives as traditional and that constitute a part of the traditional national imaginary - such as fossil fuels (e.g. coal in Poland) - the energy transition can be perceived as enforced by external political actors.

The researchers considered two forms of national identity. The first is secure national identity. It is characterized by a sense of strong ties and solidarity with members of one's own group and satisfaction from belonging to a group. The second, defensive form of identity can be described as national narcissism. It is characterized by a belief that a given national group is superior and deserves recognition and special treatment. This attitude is based on unsatisfied individual needs, e.g. low sense of personal control or low self-esteem.

'While secure national identification means satisfaction with belonging to a group and a sense of solidarity with compatriots, national narcissism means an unconditional belief in the greatness of a national group that requires external recognition. We assumed that - in contrast to secure national identification - national narcissism would be negatively associated with support for solutions mitigating the effects of climate change, because such activities do not directly give the feeling that others see our greatness and take us into account, and therefore do not satisfy the key psychological needs of such people,' the first author of the study, Professor Aleksandra Cisłak-Wójcik, a psychologist and vice-rector for science at the SWPS University, said. 

In the analysis, scientists used data from two extensive survey studies conducted in Poland with samples representative of age, gender and education, both of which numbered over 1,000. people. They measured national narcissism, national identification and support for climate policies related to the introduction of the European Green Deal, and support for investing in the development of alternative energy sources.

The first study showed that people with a so-called more secure identity were more positive towards the development of renewable energy sources and the European Green Deal. Among national narcissists, the support for pro-environmental policies and the development of renewable energy sources was significantly lower, while the support for energy derived from fossil fuels was greater.

The researchers noted: ’It is interesting that the researchers did not find a link between support for nuclear energy and forms of national identification, but only a weak relationship with right-wing political views. This shows that the topic of nuclear energy is not politicised in our country.’

In the second study, support for pro-environmental policies was shown to be dependent on the amount of funding allocated to enhance the country's green image. According to the researchers, the willingness of participants to support image enhancement - in the case of those with higher levels of national narcissism - could be attributed to their desire for increased self-esteem. At the same time, those with higher levels of secure national identification sought to reduce the funds allocated to the image campaign and increase funding for real pro-environmental measures.

'The findings also have practical implications regarding the role of psychological needs in shaping support for the introduction of public policies aimed at climate neutrality. It shows how political support can be mobilized among those who would not support such policies for the sole purpose of mitigating global climate change. Its successful implementation depends on showing how it meets the needs of both groups,’ said Professor Cisłak-Wójcik.

According to Professor Taciano Milfont, co-author of the paper from the University of Waikato in New Zealand, the findings underline the key role of national identity in promoting collective action, which is essential to tackling the climate crisis.

PAP - Science in Poland, Urszula Kaczorowska

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