January Spotlight Dr. Geoffrey Beattie
Updated: Mar 26
Dr. Geoffrey Beattie is a Professor of Psychology at Edge Hill University in England. He grew up in a working-class household in Belfast during the Troubles, a part of Belfast often called ‘Murder Triangle’ in the media. Beattie looks back at this period of violence in Ireland as what drove him to toward studying psychology, he states "I wanted to understand people and their actions, both rational and, at times, very irrational.” He has written several books of non-fiction and one novel about his Northern Irish background, a number of which have been shortlisted for major international literary prizes. He went on to do his Ph.D. at Trinity College, the University of Cambridge, where several Kings of England, future Kings (Prince Charles), Prime Ministers, and great scientists, philosophers and artists like Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Tennyson and Byron, had been educated or worked before him. This was quite a jump in terms of social class and privilege. He studied the relationship between thinking and language and how thought is realized in speech in real time. He focused on the nonverbal accompaniments of language - eye gaze, gesture, bodily movement, as possible clues to the operation of this process. This broadened his interest in the processes of communication and social interaction more generally.
His interest in communication crossed over into environmental studies and climate change in particular in 2008, where he began to look at why the fundamental climate change message does not appear to be getting through to large sections of the population. He worked extensively on the ‘value-action’ gap when it comes to human behavior and the fact that self-reports of attitudes (which tend to be very positive when it comes to the environment and sustainability) are poor predictors of actual behavior in this domain. In the area of climate change, the goal of his research is how to get people to act more sustainably, and to identify what psychological barriers (both cognitive and emotional) are preventing them from changing their behavior to mitigate the effects of climate change. Part of this research focuses on identifying underlying implicit attitudes to high and low carbon products/lifestyles and researching effective mechanisms for changing these implicit attitudes. A new paper in ‘Environment and Behavior’ in 2020 (with Laura McGuire) outlines some of this work. They are also about to start a major new international interdisciplinary project, funded by EHU’s Research Institute Thematic Awards, to investigate the effectiveness of different educational programs in the U.K. and overseas for shaping these attitudes. They aim to determine the effects of any such changes for actual sustainable behavior. This work on the psychological barriers to climate change has been detailed in a number of his books, including ‘Why Aren’t We Saving the Planet: A Psychologist’s Perspective’, Routledge, 2010; and ‘The Psychology of Climate Change’, Routledge, 2018 (with Laura), and a large number of papers in various journals, including Nature Climate Change.
His research on climate change has reached major international audiences, and he has been invited to work with the U.N. in a number of capacities on climate change. He is currently a member of the steering group committee for the new U.N. Interdisciplinary and Intergovernmental Panel of Behavior Change for Sustainable Development (IPBC) and for the first report for this committee he will be leading on chapters on ‘Representations of climate change’ and ‘Consumption and climate change’. In addition, he has presented his research (with Laura) on why we need to target implicit, automatic associations in the fight against climate change at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, in July 2015. He also written a chapter for the new edition of the United Nations International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice Report along with 40 other authors, both academics and practitioners, from across the globe, including the U.S., Australia, Europe, Nigeria, Sweden, South Africa, Canada, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc. This report, which is issued every ten years, will be published in 2020.
As well as being a counselor on the Executive Board of the International Interdisciplinary Environmental Association he is a member of the International Advisory Board of the Japanese research organization and think-tank ‘The International Academic Forum’. He has also worked with the British Academy on climate change, as well as receiving research funding from them. He presented his research on optimism bias and climate change at the British Academy Summer Showcase 2018, and at a British Academy event on climate change at the Latitude Festival in 2019. He will be speaking at a B.A. event at the Buxton International Festival in summer 2020 on the theme of ‘taking responsibility for climate change’. In terms of other international exposure for his climate change work he has worked as an external consultant to Unilever’s Leadership Vanguard (LV) with Paul Polman, then CEO of Unilever, and others. LV is a major global initiative that seeks to identify, support and mobilize future-fit leaders – all in the interest of reinventing growth. Inspired by CEOs such as Polman and Ajay Banga, and instigated by Xyntéo and DNV GL, the Vanguard partnership includes Unilever, MasterCard, Woodside, Singapore’s Economic Development Board, Ericsson, Energias de Portugal and the International Committee of the Red Cross. This organization helps shape the sustainability policy of Unilever and other leading multinationals.
He has attended a number of International Interdisciplinary Conferences on the Environment discussing unconscious implicit attitudes to carbon and cognitive biases when it comes to climate change. In his first conference, he presented a paper entitled "Mobilizing the unconscious mind in the fight against climate change" in 2015 he presented "Why Don't We See the Arguments for Climate Change? How Cognitive Biases Affect the Processing of Climate Change Messages". He has few hobbies - just that loneliest of pastimes- running. He has represented Northern Ireland in the 10k in the last two years and represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the track in the European Masters Athletics Championship in 2019. Interestingly, his son Ben who is a much better runner than him represents England in the 10k. They had to compete against each other in a family-based international! Today he happens to be reading “Cognitive Dissonance” by Harmon Jones and Mills, but as for tomorrow....who knows? His life, he says, is driven by his passion for the subject - he has published twenty-five books, the latest is on “The Psychology of Trophy Hunting”. Every day is a new adventure as the work takes many twists and turns and often very hard to predict. Only his daily run is certain. And that’s how he likes it.