The cognitive neuroscience of climate change and social justice

21 and 22 June 2019

While there is a great sense of urgency in the scientific community to act now in order to slow the imminent negative effects of global warming, most organizations continue to run their operations as though the external context has not changed. At an individual level, while many initiatives attempted to mobilise the public in the fight against climate change, many have often failed due to the public’s unwillingness to adapt their behaviour. One of the main reasons behind organizational unsustainable behavior in general and climate change inertia in particular lies in the cognitive biases at play in the decision making processes. Evidence from social and affective neuroscience and cognitive psychology have identified cognitive processes that short-circuit our deliberative faculties. A number of psychological barriers and biases may disrupt typical reflection and may even prevent those who are aware of climate change and social inequalities from taking action to reduce their impact. These common biases in judgement may lead to the gap between society’s recognition of environmental problems and society’s frequent failure to address them appropriately. Understanding these barriers and systematic biases can lead to potential interventions, and help practitioners to put research insights into practice in order to address a variety of sustainability challenges.

The Cognitive Neuroscience of Climate Change and Social Justice course uses research-backed evidence to focus on influencing social norms in support of long-term, sustainable behavior change. The two-day course will introduce participants to the principles of behaviour change and how these can be applied to environmental and social justice challenges. By examining the science and politics of climate change and its deep relationship with social inequalities, we will analyze our rational and irrational attitudes to the environment and others. The overarching objective of the course is to explore how cognitive neuroscience might help contribute to solve, or to mitigate environmental and social challenges while improving the quality of our own judgments and decisions.

Day 1. The cognitive neuroscience of behavioral change

Part1. In the first part of this session, we will address how individuals think about and react to environmental problems with a focus on individual behaviors. We will start by introducing participants to foundational neuroscience principles. This will help us explore some key findings regarding human behavior and decision making from a cognitive neuroscience perspective and discuss them with regard to unsustainable decision making and behavior.

Part 2. Over the last 30 years, neuroscientists, psychologists and economists have gained a deeper understanding of what motivates people and the mechanisms of forming and deforming habits. This session is devoted to understanding the human cognitive and behavioral tendencies challenging traditional assumptions about rationality. We will explore the role of emotions in decision making and motivational processes related to social justice. In this session, we will review neuroscientific insights into the brain systems involved in motivational processes and what neuroscience indicates about motivating behavior change. This knowledge, in turn, provides clues about the various ways that behavior change can go wrong and how to improve it. Along the way, the session highlights specific and practical lessons learned that are relevant to behavioural change related to the environment.

Day 2. Social Neuroscience for transformation and justice

Part 1. Social status is deeply associated with elevated levels of stress and rates of mental disorders are intimately related to the inequality which makes that status paramount. Given the effects of stress on neurobiological regulation, vulnerable communities who internalize and navigate multiple stressors, are directly affected at the levels of their health and well‐being. This session will apply an intersectionality framework to the examination of how systems of oppression, create stress experiences, and the differential impacts of these inequalities on stress regulation and decision making. The overarching goal of this session is to explore how inequality affects individuals at neurobiological and psychological levels shedding new light on how societies based on fundamental inequalities generate much lower levels of well-being and unsustainable behaviors.

Part 2. In the fields of social justice and eco-sustainable behaviors, neuroscientific evidence has been used to both support and contest various forms of government intervention. The second part of the session focuses on how to design, implement and monitor policies based on behavioural insights and a more realistic account of the status-related challenges and the non-rational aspects of people’s behaviour. We will explore the experimental endeavours of a number of national governments, NGOs and global institutions in attempting to re-imagine policy making in an era where the cognitive, emotional, neurobiological and behavioural processes of the citizen are seen as the new target points of strategic, intelligent and effective policy strategy. This day culminates in an exercise where participants apply the knowledge and skills developed in the session to a program or project of interest.

Learning outcomes

This course aims to help participants:

  • Articulating the interactions between neuropsychology and change and applying neuropsychological principles and knowledge to community and societal/environmental concerns
  • Building a practical framework for developing, implementing and evaluating behavior change interventions in their area of interest
  • Understanding how stress and motivations interact to support behaviour change
  • Learning key principles underpinning maintenance of behaviour change
  • Developing critical thinking towards their their own biaises and irrational decision making

Who can be involved?

This course is aimed at Everyone interested in behaviour change – from :

  • Professionals who manage environmental programs and campaigns
  • Employees and educators at informal education institutions
  • Community volunteers and activists interested in working to promote community engagement and sustainability
  • Intervention designers and policy makers


Basic knowledge of biology and psychology is helpful, but not necessary.


Dr. Samah Karaki,Neuroscientist, Consultant, Speaker

After 10 years of research in the field of learning and stress-related behaviors, she co-founded in 2014 the Social Brain Institute translating knowledge from many different disciplines including cognitive neuroscience, education, psychology, technology and design into innovative approaches. Using simple strategies that align with how people’s brains learn and remember information, SBi generates interactive, learner-centered learning methods using action-oriented and transformative pedagogy. Today, SBi is developing programs using our understanding of the human brain to improve organizational culture and performance, leadership and ecocitizenship thriving to contribute in the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Practical Information and Registration

Dates of sessions: Friday 21 and Saturday 22 June, from 9:30 am to 5 pm at Lebanon Support Office, Furn El Chebbak.

Participation Fee:

  • Standard Fee: 160 $
  • Reduced* Fee: 110 $
  • Solidarity** Fee: 220 $

* The reduced fee is offered to Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinians, with salaries under 1,000$/month but still having to pay rent monthly. If you don’t fall under this category and still would like to pay the reduced fee, please contact us. This rate is applicable for a limited number of participants.

**The solidarity fee is optional for anyone who has the economic means and ability to pay a higher rate, making it possible to offer this course for a reduced rate to participants who have limited economic means.

Registration form here

Deadline for registration: June 17

Contact: here