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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Volume 2012, Issue 192 (Oct 2012)


See no evil? Only implicit attitudes predict unconscious eye movements towards images of climate change

Professor Geoffrey Beattie,
  • University of Manchester
  • Email:
/ Research Assistant Laura McGuire,
  • University of Manchester
  • Email:
Published Online: 2012-10-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2012-0066


This paper examines how measures of both explicit and implicit attitudes to the environment relate to unconscious patterns of eye movements towards or away from iconic images of environmental damage and climate change. It found that those with a strong positive implicit attitude towards low carbon products spent significantly more time attending to negative images of climate change than positive images of nature in a ten second interval, and this occurred even in the first 200 milliseconds of looking. Those with a strong positive implicit attitude towards low carbon products also spent significantly more time attending to negative images of climate change in the first 200 milliseconds compared to those with a weaker implicit attitude. Measures of explicit attitude did not predict eye gaze towards the negative images in this way. In other words, there is a statistical association between implicit attitude (rather than explicit attitude) and how people focus their attention on iconic images of environmental damage and climate change. The study discusses the implication of this empirical finding for those attempting to mobilize consumers in the fight against climate change.

Keywords: implicit-explicit attitudes; unconscious eye movements; environmental behavior; sustainability; Implicit Association Test

About the article

Professor Geoffrey Beattie,

Geoffrey Beattie is a professor at the University of Manchester 〈geoff.beattie@hotmail.co.uk〉. His research interests include analysis of individual behaviour and action and the relationship between implicit and explicit attitudes. His publications include “Making an action film. Do films such as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth really make any difference to how we think and feel about climate change?” (2011); and “Possible unconscious bias in recruitment and the need to promote equality” (with P. Johnson, 2011).

Research Assistant Laura McGuire,

Laura McGuire is a research assistant at the University of Manchester 〈lauramcguire@hotmail.com〉. Her research interests include the analysis of unconscious eye movements using eye tracking technology, and emotional responses to messages in the context of sustainability. Her publications include “Are we too optimistic to bother saving the planet? The relationship between optimism, eye gaze and negative images of climate change” (with G. Beattie, 2011).

Published Online: 2012-10-19

Published in Print: 2012-10-11

Citation Information: , ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2012-0066. Export Citation

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