In this chapter, we present research in psychology to explain how and why effects that are diffuse through space and/or time are so hard for people to perceive, respond to, and appreciate. The cognitive and emotional barriers people face in addressing diffuse environmental impacts have profound implications both for how environmental law operates, and for how it might be made more effective. This chapter proceeds by first discussing the general phenomenon of diffuse impacts, focusing on the psychology of externalities. The chapter then explores the cognitive and emotional/motivational psychological phenomena that are likely to affect the way that people perceive, process, and respond to diffuse environmental impacts. It highlights the importance of latency, spatial distance, identifiability, and salience in addressing diffuse harms.
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