Thesis - Volunteer opportunity: Psychological barriers to climate action


Karen Holtmaat


In an era marked by heightened global awareness of climate change, a persistent challenge emerges: despite increased climate engagement, individuals and social groups remain disengaged for diverse reasons. This thesis opportunity aims to address the intricate psychological barriers to climate action, providing the student with the flexibility to explore individual perspectives, social group dynamics, or a combination of both. Whether investigating how individual perceptions of their impact hinder active participation in climate action or examining how social networks influence climate-related beliefs, the research aims to provide a better insight into various factors contributing to disengagement. The findings may serve as a springboard for further research within the university, contributing to a nuanced understanding of climate engagement. This open-ended topic allows the student to choose their approach, with the ultimate goal of offering tangible insights that can inform not only academic discourse but also potential strategies for enhancing climate action within the university and beyond.


Through the Green Action Lab, you will collaborate with VU’s research and staff and help them:

  1. To investigate the psychological barriers that prevent individuals and social groups from engaging in climate action, exploring both personal and collective dimensions.
  2. To examine how individual perceptions of impact and efficacy influence participation in climate action, and identify key factors contributing to disengagement.
  3. To analyze the role of social networks and group dynamics in shaping climate-related beliefs and attitudes, and their effect on climate engagement.
  4. To provide a comprehensive understanding of the various factors that lead to disengagement from climate action, offering insights into how these barriers can be overcome.
  5. To contribute to the development of strategies that could enhance climate engagement within the university community and potentially in broader contexts.

Throughout your assignment, you will have the opportunity to conduct in-depth research in environmental psychology, social sciences, and climate studies. The anticipated outcome of this project is a set of findings that deepen the understanding of climate engagement and disengagement, aiding in the creation of more effective approaches to foster climate action.


- You are interested in the people aspect of Sustainability and

- You are a bachelor/master student at VU Amsterdam for the duration of the appointment

- You can come to VU on a regular basis

- You have good oral and written command of the English language

- You are open towards interdisciplinary collaboration and show a welcoming and tolerant work attitude.

- Desired background: Environmental Psychology, Social Psychology, Sociology, Behavioral Sciences, Environmental Studies, Public Policy, Climate Studies, or other related fields focusing on understanding human behavior in the context of climate change, barriers to environmental action, and strategies for enhancing climate engagement.

What are we offering?:

By joining the project team, you will gain:

- Sustainability consulting experience

- Flexible desk and a study spot at the Green Office VU

- Peer reviewed publication in “Science for Sustainability” open access academic journal (when thesis is graded above 7.5)

Duration: From 1 February until 30 June 2023 (flexible)

Working hours: Approximately 8 hours per week depending on partner availability

Place: VU Amsterdam and remote

Supervision: TBA

Apply for this project