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Reducing Distance to Increase Action: How psychological proximity drives activism

  • Author(s): Sparks, Aaron
  • Advisor(s): Smith, Eric RAN
  • et al.

I propose the psychological proximity hypothesis to shed additional light on our

understanding of the motivation behind political participation. When people directly

experience a political issue, that is, when the political issue is psychologically proxi

mate, they are more likely to become involved. There are two mechanisms contained

within this hypothesis. First, psychological proximity leads to higher levels of issue

public membership, which in turn leads to activism. Second, because psychological

proximity often leads to thinking of the issue in concrete terms, people are better

able to match specific political activities to address the problem. I develop the psy

chological proximity hypothesis in relation to issue-based activism across a variety of

political domains in chapter two by using a combination of representative survey data

from the American National Election Studies and the General Social Survey along

with original data and a survey-experiment collected through Mechanical Turk. In

chapter 4, I apply the hypothesis to the environment and climate change in order to

examine the mechanisms more closely. In both chapters, the two mechanisms linking

proximity to activism are empirically supported.

In addition to the psychological proximity hypothesis, in this dissertation I present

a novel measure of environmental attitudes that does not suffer from a confound

with liberal ideology as existing scales do. The Moral Environmentalism Scale is

constructed by incorporating a mix of liberal and conservative moral language. The vii

MES is the only scale analyzed that is able to predict Republican environmental

behavior. Furthermore, the MES is psychometrically valid. All items load on a single

factor, the scale detects low and high levels of moral environmentalism, and the MES

discriminates between someone who is at the low end of the scale from someone who

is very pro-environment.

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