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Coping with cognitive dissonance in climate protection through dilemma stories in climate education

Author: Sonja Fasbender & Annika Wachten

Abstract: Ambitious objectives in climate policies set high expectations not only on technological advance, but also on an education that raises each individual’s awareness for sustainable developments. Psychological evidence, however, suggests that information on climate change leads to moral dilemmas and evokes cognitive dissonance that exposes an inner state of conflict. These negative experiences induce discomfort and counteract efforts of climate education, if humans do not develop coping strategies right from the beginning on. In order to address that problem, a teaching
unit for children in primary school is developed and evaluated. The development of the teaching unit is part of a practice-oriented project of NaturGut Ophoven e.V., a center for environmental education. The teaching unit deals with climate change in general and in specific with climate-friendly nutrition, consumption, mobility, waste disposal behaviour and the rebound-effect. An essential component of each module is a personal confrontation with a dilemma story that the children must discuss and creatively work with. A combination of quantitative and qualitative methods is used to evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching unit’s approach. This includes a focus group and a pre-post-measurement with a partly-standardized written survey, each a different survey for teachers
and children. The results indicate that the children of age eight to ten learned how to cope with cognitive dissonance and can decide more easily in dilemma situations. Thus, the developed teaching unit helps children to gain capacity to judge and to decide without feeling overwhelmed or frightened. In addition, children’s attitudes towards their own action on climate protection are positively affected by our modules.

Journal: The Journal of Health, Environment, & Education

Volume: 9

Pages: 19-27

Link to the article