Panic internally, act sustainably: Climate change distress predicts pro-environmental behavior in a modified work for environmental protection task and a dictator game

Elsevier, Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology, Volume 4, January 2023
Urbild J., Zauner K., Hepp J.

The negative impact of climate change on mental health has gained increased attention in recent years, with studies documenting elevated rates of mental disorders in areas affected by natural disasters. At the same time, distress over climate change has been described as a natural response to an existential threat that is not per se pathological. Climate change distress (CCD) may even be a motivating force for pro-environmental behavior (PEB) and ultimately help mitigate the effects of climate change. In the present study, we tested a number of pre-registered hypotheses ( on the association between CCD and PEB and investigated age and gender differences in self-reported CCD and climate change-associated impairment (CCI). We recruited an online sample of 550 German-speaking participants and assessed PEB at a behavioral level using a modified work-for-environmental-protection-task and a modified dictator game. We observed that CCD was associated with a higher level of PEB in both paradigms. Results from a logistic regression model showed that individuals who were more distressed were more likely to complete all items of a working memory task to generate donations for the environment (work-for-environmental-protection-task). Higher CCD was also associated with a higher likelihood of sacrificing one's entire payoff in the dictator game to donate to environmental protection organizations. As predicted, younger individuals and women (vs. men) experienced higher levels of both CCD and CCI. We discuss the high prevalence of CCD in the sample and lay out directions for future work to assess avenues for increasing PEB whilst protecting climate-related mental health. Data and code for all main and supplemental analyses are available at