Youth & Climate Change
My most recent work involved the development, implementation, and evaluation of a multi-site, community-based project in partnership with local Boys and Girls Clubs to engage ethnically and economically diverse youth in climate change action. The dual aims of this applied program and mixed-methods research study were: (1) To begin to address a significant gap in the social psychology of climate change, where youth perspectives and actions are underrepresented; and (2) To strengthen youth agency and active engagement with a critical social justice issue. Grounded in social psychological theories and the interdisciplinary climate change literature, the program bridged educational activities with youth-designed community action projects (e.g., policy advocacy; community garden) using photovoice, a participatory action research methodology involving digital photography as the basis for problem identification, group dialogue, and social change action.
Analyses of survey and focus group data showed program effectiveness in the areas of youths’ climate change knowledge, pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors, science attitudes and grades, and youths’ sense of agency to improve their communities. In addition to providing important new information about how youth think, feel, and act in relation to climate change, findings offer insight into practical methods for: (1) Cultivating active community-based climate change engagement by diverse pre-teen youth (e.g., in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and class); and (2) Encouraging science interest and success by underrepresented groups (e.g., youth of color, girls) in science education and careers. This dissertation was fully funded through a combination of grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), and SCRA. Several manuscripts related to theory-building, methodology, and results are planned, as is one-year follow-up data collection in May 2017.
Institutional Engagement & Social Justice
Political Activism & Prefigurative Politics
Alongside my work in the climate arena, I have independently investigated college students’ political identities and participation in social activism. Three survey-based studies, involving a mixture of quantitative and qualitative analysis, led to a broader review of social movements scholarship and a theoretical article published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Social and Political Psychology (Trott, 2016). My research in this area contends that psychological perspectives are imperative to understanding prefigurative politics—a growing phenomenon in climate change activism involving direct action rather than demands-based protest—and calls for psychology’s increased employment of critical and reflexive methodologies that attend to the power imbalances, process, and intentions of academic research to more effectively bring about transformative change.
Women & Climate Science
The inclusion and amplification of diverse voices in addressing climate change extends to the participation of historically underrepresented groups in higher education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Using a combination of survey and interview methods, my work in this area has examined social, psychological, and institutional factors impeding women’s sustained engagement in atmospheric (i.e., weather and climate) science. This research has generated insight into the systems, expectations, and practices of academic science that pose barriers to women’s educational and career persistence (Canetto, Trott, Thomas, & Wynstra, 2012; Canetto, Trott, & Winterrowd, under revision).
International Women’s Health and Human Rights
Social conflicts stemming from climate change are not simply a function of gradual or abrupt changes in environmental conditions; They are a reflection and magnification of existing social inequalities. Among populations at greatest risk are impoverished women of the Global South. Over the past seven years, I have conducted research on numerous projects exploring gender disparities in women’s health and human rights, particularly in East African contexts (i.e., Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia). This research has been published in the peer-reviewed journals Violence Against Women (Trott, Harman, & Kaufman, 2016) and the International Journal of Social and Community Studies (Trott & Canetto, 2014), as well as in the edited volume, Expression of Inequality in Interaction: Power, Dominance, and Status (Harman, Kaufman, Aoki, & Trott, 2014).
Due to physical processes already set in motion, even if all greenhouse gas emissions stopped today, the coming decades are expected to be characterized by increased uncertainty and probability of disruption to socioecological systems. Climate change will exacerbate existing social inequalities and compound environmental injustices, as socially and economically disenfranchised groups—women, people of color, the Indigenous—and the physically vulnerable—the young, the elderly, the ailing, and the disabled—bear the brunt of food shortages, water scarcity, and other forms of climate-related deprivation. If present circumstances prevail, this will take place against the backdrop of a U.S. policy landscape largely under-informed by scientific evidence, a scientific enterprise structured in ways that remain unopen to diverse voices, and an under-engaged and increasingly distrustful public towards both science and politics. My research program, with aims to identify and dismantle barriers to processes of transformative social change, will broaden psychology’s scope of climate change inquiry and understanding, while advancing ecological sustainability and social justice.