Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Threats to the health of our environment are numerous. Much research in science and engineering is devoted to documenting, understanding, and attempting to mitigate the harm itself. The root challenge for sustainability, however, is human behavior. As such, changes to human behaviors and the internal processes that drive them are also essential. Critical to understanding sustainability-related behaviors is the individual's conceptualization of the natural world and its components and processes. The papers in this topiCS issue address these conceptualizations by drawing from anthropological, linguistic, educational, philosophical, and social cognitive perspectives as well as traditional psychological approaches to the study of concepts and their development in children. They engage with many domains bearing on environmental sustainability including climate change, biodiversity, land and water conservation, resource use, and design of the built environment. They coalesce around four broad themes: (a) What people know (or believe) about nature broadly and about specific aspects of nature, and how they acquire and use this knowledge; (b) how knowledge is expressed and shared via language; (c) how knowledge and beliefs interact with affective, social, and motivational influences to yield attitudes and behaviors; and (d) how members of different cultures and speakers of different languages differ in these ways. The papers also point to lessons for advancing sustainability via public policy and public messaging, education, conservation and nature management, and design of the built environment.

Original publication




Journal article


Top Cogn Sci

Publication Date



Attitudes, Climate change, Cognitive Development, Concepts, Culture, Diversity, Education, Environment, Knowledge, Language, Metaphor, Public policy, Reasoning, Religion, Sustainability