Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Climate Anxiety in Aotearoa Adolescents: A Mixed-Methods Exploration

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posted on 2022-09-15, 09:04 authored by McBride, Sarah

Climate anxiety is a key issue for adolescent wellbeing, however, due to the infancy of climate anxiety research, empirical knowledge is limited. Study One identified demographic patterns of climate anxiety by surveying an adolescent university sample (N = 260) and high school sample (N = 131). Adolescents reported frequent, negative climate anxiety related emotions but low climate-related impairment (Study 1A). Climate anxiety was associated with greater psychological distress and pro-environmental behaviour; but associations with emotion regulation abilities were mixed. In Study 1B, we applied latent profile analyses to test if climate anxiety is distinct from psychological distress, and how these differences might be related to pro-environmental behaviour and emotion regulation. Results identified three profiles of climate anxiety and psychological distress, suggesting that the two constructs are distinct: “Low Distress”, “Climate Specific Distress”, and “Cross-Domain Distress”. Reported pro-environmental behaviours were highest for climate-anxious profiles relative to the Low Distress profile supporting the theory that pro-environmental behaviours are adaptive to climate threat. The Climate Specific Distress profile reported low psychological distress and higher Emotional Control and Emotional Self-Awareness, suggesting that emotion regulation is protective against climate anxiety’s effects on distress. Study Two interviewed climate-anxious individuals from Study One (N = 7) to gain a deeper insight of findings from Study One and highlight potential avenues for future research. Findings highlighted the role of powerlessness in climate anxiety and suggest that some quantitative “climate anxiety” measures are better conceptualized as general climate-related impairment. Synthesising the studies together, we propose a theoretical model for incorporating themes of powerlessness to understanding the maintenance and development of climate anxiety. The results also have implications for wellbeing strategies for climate anxious adolescents; avoidance is currently a preferred strategy, however, there may be utility for strategies focusing on acceptance, rather than reduction, of climate anxiety. Future research of climate anxiety must develop theory specific to adolescents, Aotearoa, and tāngata Māori. We conclude that global action to prevent climate change is vital for the wellbeing of younger generations.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Wilson, Marc; Hammond, Matt