Can you share a bit about yourself and your background?

I'm a social psychology researcher interested in understanding what people think, feel, and do about climate change. I'm a Research Fellow at the UNSW Institute for Climate Risk & Response. My appointment is partially funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA).

I studied in New Zealand and then moved to Australia to take up my first academic role at the end of 2018. Much of my research focuses on how ideological attitudes (political orientation, social dominance orientation) and emotions (e.g., eco-anxiety, anger about climate change) relate to attitudes and behaviours. The research on eco-anxiety, which has largely been driven by Teaghan Hogg (PhD student I co-supervise), highlights that experiencing eco-anxiety is related to both poorer mental health and taking greater action on climate change.

What inspired you to become a researcher in this area?

I started as an English major at university but was drawn to the psychology classes I took as electives. I was fascinated by the idea that we could use scientific methods to learn about people's attitudes and behaviours, so I changed my degree to a major in psychology and philosophy. In my honour’s year, I took courses in political and environmental psychology and then started a Master's project (one year in NZ) doing research that combined these areas to study political polarisation on climate change. I loved the research process and this topic area, and of course, the work I did only led to more questions, so I decided to convert the Master’s into a PhD on this topic. 

One of the important things I learned during my PhD was the ideological attitudes that help explain differences in opinion on climate change. My focus was on social dominance orientation, which measures the extent to which people prefer social inequality and hierarchy. People who hold this ideology more strongly tend to be more likely to deny climate change and less likely to support climate solutions. 

In many ways, I view climate change as an inequality issue, which has shaped my research direction. During my PhD, I heard the President of Kiribati at the time speak at a conference about the very real risks of displacement due to climate change. After my PhD, I started a new line of research, trying to understand public attitudes towards policies that would finance measures to help people in nations most at risk stay in place and, if necessary, relocate. This early work grew into my DECRA application, which aims to scale up the research on public support for climate finance and migration. 

What research projects do you have planned for the near future?

In my role at the UNSW Institute for Climate Risk & Response, I will be looking at some individual differences that could predict support for climate aid policies, such as people’s views about and emotional responses to climate change, as well as variables that could help us understand differences in views across countries, such as the country-level indicators of economic capacity to contribute to climate solutions (i.e., GDP) and historical emissions. My research will also investigate public attitudes towards policies that support those most affected by climate change, such as resettlement for those displaced and compensation for losses caused by climate change.

Despite everything we know about climate change and what needs to be done to reduce emissions, a major barrier to addressing the problem is getting people to support climate policies and change their behaviours. Social psychology can help us understand the barriers and drivers of accepting climate science and acting on the problem.

With events like the severe bushfires that affected Australia in 2019/2020, we're increasingly gaining an appreciation of the emotional impacts of climate change. I've been working with some great collaborators and PhD students on these emotional impacts, such as eco-anxiety and solastalgia, and how anger about climate change might motivate people to act on the problem.

For interviews, please get in touch with Victoria Ticha, Media & Communications Officer, at or 0410 610 158.