The following are interdisciplinary research projects that our team is currently completing:
Nature-based Awe and Water Professionals
Researcher: Avery Marie Deboer-Smith
Project Description: The research purpose is to explore, evaluate and determine the themes and gaps within contemporary awe literature. Specifically, in this project I will focus on how nature-based awe influences water professionals’ decisions and behaviours in British Columbia and Ontario. The key research question is, “what are the characteristics of water professionals’ nature-based awe experiences”? My hypothesis is that these individuals – professionals working with, for, or around the natural environment of water –may be more exposed to nature-based awe experiences, making them ideal survey candidates. The research goal is to deepen the understanding and potential importance of experiencing a profound emotion such as awe in a nature setting. The anticipated outcomes include a unique understanding of the frequency and type of nature-based awe experiences water professionals’ can or should incorporate into their personal and professional lives.
Project Funding: Avery’s research is supported by funding from SSHRC’s Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Masters Scholarship (2019-2022) and the Canadian Federation of University Women’s Centennial Scholarship (2019-2021).
Researcher: Hanna C. Ross
Description: Hanna’s research has focused on the role of hero projects (i.e., culturally-valued legacies that will outlive our biological existence) – a unique behavioural response to mortality awareness that serve to quell fears and anxieties surrounding our impermanence. Terror Management Theory (TMT) suggests that everyone has some type of hero project, and people work really hard to achieve and defend these projects. But hero projects can come in many different shapes and sizes such as constructing infrastructure, writing books, or having children.
Specifically, Hanna has explored how hero projects may support or obstruct sustainability efforts such as water management and conservation. Her undergraduate research found mortality salience indicators in public statements from historical news articles before, during, and after the Hoover dam’s construction, indicating that the dam may have served as a remarkable – but unsustainable – water infrastructure hero-project for those involved in its installation.
Building off this idea of water-centric hero projects, Hanna’s master’s research explored whether it was appropriate to consider lawns as hero projects and conducted a mortality salience induction survey to measure mortality salience (awareness) effects on lawn watering intentions. Although she successfully conducted a TMT experiment in a non-clinical setting, mortality salience did not influence lawn watering intentions. However, this finding may have been the result of high-self esteem and strong environmental identity – two terror-managing buffers that reduce the need to activate defensive behaviours.
See: Ross, H.C., and S. E. Wolfe. (2021). "Terror Management Theory and Urban Water Decisions: Does Mortality Salience Influence Outdoor Residential Water Consumption?" The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social, and Cultural Context 17 (2): 29-53. doi:10.18848/2325-1115/CGP/v17i02/29-53.
Drawing from social psychology and the theories of religious conversion, Hanna will use conversion theory to continue exploring the cognitive and emotional processes underpinning environmental identity adoption – and possibly adopting new sustainable hero projects – during her doctoral studies (starting in 2022).
Project Funding: Funded through Wolfe’s Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) through their Insight Development Grant (2012: #430-2012-0264).
Dead in the water: The influence of mortality salience in water messages on gender equity
Researcher: Lauren Smith
Project Description: Lauren is exploring the intersection of Terror Management Theory (TMT), water communication, and gender bias. More specifically, she is focusing her research on mortality reminders within water messaging and related gender biases in innovative water decision-making.
While over 30 years of TMT empirical studies have tested various mortality reminders, including several instances of climate change, water as a mortality reminder has yet to be examined. Lauren’s first studies test three threatening water messages to determine if they increase death thought accessibility (DTA) and psycho-social defenses similarly to traditional mortality reminders. These results will inform future water communication. If a threatening water message increases psych-social defenses, such as outgroup derogation or worldview reinforcement, this has meaningful implications for following environmental behaviours. For example, if the recipient does not value environmental protection or water conservation prior to receiving a threatening water message, they may strengthen ties to that identity and further distance themselves from conservation efforts.
Lauren’s second research stage examines how these threatening, mortality-related messages influence appraisal of differently gendered water decision makers. Environmental scholars and political scientists have noted innovative, diverse, collaborative solutions are needed to resolve water crises, yet innovation and technology are male-dominated fields. Discussing threatening water scenarios in these spaces may increase mortality salience, thus increasing ingroup preference and outgroup derogation – potentially increasing gender biases and making it difficult for non-male genders to have their contributions valued. Successful, effective water solutions require input from diverse end-users, not a narrow subset. Given the life-threatening consequences of water crises, determining how to present and discuss these problems, without increasing gender biases and outgroup derogation, is imperative.
Project Funding: Lauren’s research is graciously funded by the SSHRC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (2020-2023), President’s Graduate Scholarship (2020-2023), HeForShe Gender Equity Research Grant (2019), and the Dean’s Doctoral Initiative with Exceptional Doctoral Student Scholarship (2018-2023). This research has also been supported by Wolfe’s Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) through their Insight Grant (2018: 435-2018-0142).
Reading in a Time of Climate Change: Observations of a Cli-Fi Reading Group
Researcher: Misty Matthews-Roper
Project Description: In the last decade, climate fiction – cli-fi for short – has addressed anthropogenic climate change stirring scholarly interest in the capacity of cli-fi to impact reader behaviour and motivate action on climate change. Scholarship on cli-fi owes much to ecocriticism, a sub-field of literary studies which seeks to understand how different media represent, express, and influence human perspectives on nature. These scholars argue that cli-fi provides a way to both think and feel our way through climate change. Interestingly, while ecocritics talk a lot about cli-fi, they have had few discussions with cli-fi’s general readership.
In an effort to fill this gap, several scholars have turned to empirical ecocriticism, which is defined by its use of both communication and literary studies methodologies. In principle, empirical ecocriticism is similar to studies of reception - prioritizing the audience’s reaction to a text over the text itself. In practice, empirical ecocriticism uncovers these reactions with methods borrowed from communications studies (such as focus groups, interviews, surveys). These are particularly apt for the study of cli-fi as many ecocritics claim that these novels are capable of having an effect on a reader’s mind. Empirical ecocriticism is also response to recent cognitive narratology research, which sees reading as a process of immersion. Some cognitive narratologists argue that this immersion allows readers to emotionally identify with characters and places in the story. Importantly, empirical ecocriticism is not simply a social science or communication studies approach to studying literature. It differs from these disciplines in that it seeks not only to gather data from audiences, but also to combine this with textual analysis and other ecocritical concerns (such as questions of narrative voice, genre, style).
The first forays into empirically studying cli-fi readers have revealed several mixed conclusions about the impact of reading cli-fi. Significantly, the results suggest that reading any one cli-fi will not lead to changes in behaviour; however, this doesn’t discount cli-fi’s significance. For one, much of this research has been conducted through surveys, missing the social aspect of reading.
Readers don’t always read in isolation and many readers discuss what they read with others. These discussions could be where the work of cli-fi occurs. Aiming to develop our understanding of this social aspect of reading, Misty’s doctoral research will focus on observing a book club as they read four cli-fi novels (Weather (2020) by Jenny Offill; Blaze Island (2020) by Catherine Bush; Blackfish City (2018) by Sam J. Miller; The Marrow Thieves (2017) by Cherie Dimaline). Some of the questions guiding her research are: How does a group of readers discuss each novel, what themes are mentioned? Each author wrote their novels with the intention of inspiring their readers to have hope for the future. Will the readers in this group feel inspired? How do these novels provide space for these readers to reflect on more than just the climate change facts and figures, as some ecocritics claim? Observing readers as they interpret and discuss these novels will provide valuable insight into the cultural work of cli-fi.
Awe and pro-environmental behaviour: A scoping review of the interdisciplinary literature
Researcher: Devon Jones
Project Description: For the world to address the unprecedented challenge of climate change, there needs to be a widescale shift in behaviour. How can we help motivate this shift? We believe that looking beyond rationality to the emotional motivations of behaviour can help shift worldviews and challenge the idea of human dominance over nature. Awe has been shown to influence pro-social behaviour; we argue that pro-environmental behaviour is a unique subset of pro-social behaviour, and that it too could be influenced by experiences of awe. We submit that awe’s effects on pro-environmental behaviour merit closer study because of awe’s impacts on individuals’ values, self-concept, sense of connection to the world, and perception of barriers to action. To encourage this future research, we undertook a scoping review to present an overview of the established methods in awe and pro-environmental behaviour studies and consolidate areas of future studies suggested in the literature.
Project Funding: This research has been supported by Wolfe’s Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) through their Insight Development Grant (2019: 430-2019-0067). This research was also supported by the Mitacs Research Training Award.
Yuck! Gross! and Ewwww! Applying interdisciplinary insights to design communication strategies for effectively addressing negative responses to water reuse practices
Researcher: Stephanie Cote
Project Description: To conserve water, communities can reuse treated wastewater for activities like toilet flushing, irrigation and drinking. But people are disgusted by the idea of using water that once touched human feces. Drawing from social psychology (Terror Management Theory and disgust) and communications literatures, Stephanie is investigating how communication tools and messages can be designed to address automatic, emotional disgust responses to water reuse project proposals. This barrier must be managed for water reuse to become a viable water supply solution.
Project Funding: Stephanie’s research is supported by funding from SSHRC’s Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholarship (2020-2023), Canadian Federation of University Women’s Dr. Alice E. Wilson Award (2021-2022), and Royal Roads University’s Entrance Award (Jan-2020) and Doctoral Entrance Award (Jan-2020). This research has also been supported by Wolfe’s Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) through their Insight Grant (2018: 435-2018-0142)
Feeling Rules and Water Education
Researcher: Kirsten Rudestam
Project Description: In this project, we’ll examine the institutionalized “feeling rules” (Hochschild 1979) around water scarcity and climate change discussions in post-secondary, water-related courses and research centres. Because professors establish the culture for generations of water activists and policy-makers, Kirsten will interview and observe faculty members at University of Victoria and University of Waterloo to determine the role of emotion in water decision making and pedagogy, and to explore the reproduction of feeling rules in the culture of the discipline.
Project Funding: This work is supported by the SSHRC Postdoctoral fellowship program.