|Tuesday, June 23|
Some assert that the solutions to environmental problems lie in stronger regulations, curbing harmful industry practices, or technical innovations, but the fundamental driver of change is the decision-making of 7.7 billion individuals, who often understand the problem but do little to help overcome it. Why? We are hindered by many dragons of inaction (Gifford, 2011), a comprehensive set of psychological barriers to real action. These dragons of inaction can, and must, be slain--although this will take great effort--through a combination of carefully targeted messages, enabling infrastructure, spreading social norms, effective feedback, feasible goal-setting, appropriate rewards, and the development of green identity that lead, via social licence, to effective leadership and equitable policies. These steps must be taken immediately. We do not have decades to ease our profligate spewing of greenhouse gases, manage the blows they have already caused, and prevent even stronger negative impacts. This symposium explores the bases for this inaction in several environmental domains, and suggest paths forward. Various topics will be addressed, such as residential energy conservation, the perception of environmentalists, sustainable food choices, and story-based information as influencers.
* Rober Gifford, University of Victoria, Canada
Using Behavioral Science to Reduce Energy Use at Home
* Reuven Sussman, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, United States
Emma Cooper, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, United States
Home energy use is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and an important target of environmental sustainability and energy efficiency programs. We present results from three projects and a review paper on the use of behavioral science to encourage homeowners to save energy. The review paper sets the stage by describing programs that have already been implemented by American utilities to date. We then present two studies of home energy audits: one on message framing to encourage efficiency upgrades, and one on how audit report design can be leveraged to persuade homeowners to invest in upgrades. The message framing experiment, conducted on a nationally representative sample of 1,905 American homeowners, showed how several message framing strategies could increase willingness to invest in upgrades. For example, highlighting health, comfort and bill savings benefits were found to be effective strategies. We then present an experiment on how the presence of efficiency information in real estate listings can affect homebuyers’ valuation of homes. We conclude with a description of current research on home energy auditor training that teaches auditors to employ behavioral science principles.
Social perceptions of environmentalists
* Elizabeth (Liz) Williams, University of Victoria, Canada
What are public perceptions of environmentalists? Stereotypes, beliefs that members of a group possess certain characteristics, are widely understood and communicated within a culture, even amongst individuals who do not believe them to be representative of the group in question (Jackson, 2011). Research suggests that stereotypes of environmentalists are primarily negative and may impede environmental participation (Bashir, Lockwood, Chasteen, Nadolny, & Noyes, 2013; Minson & Monin, 2012). Yet few studies have assessed environmentalist perceptions of their own in-group stereotypes. The current study builds on previous research by including representation from the environmental community (N = 489). This research uses qualitative and quantitative social psychology methods to explore the content and prevalence of environmentalist stereotypes. Canadian participants completed a survey containing established research scales: New Ecological Paradigm, Stereotype Content Model, System Justification scale, and modified scales on pro-environmental identity. Irrespective of their own environmental attitudes or identity, participants listed highly similar and largely positive words in association with environmentalists. When asked to rate public perceptions of environmentalists, participants provided similar moderate ratings on warmth and competence, and low rating for status. Perceptions of competition between environmentalists and the public, in resources, decision-making, and power, were higher amongst non-environmentalists and varied according to political ideology and province of residence. A better understanding of environmentalist stereotypes may contribute to psychology research on inter-group relations and stereotypes, and may offer insight into resistance to environmental initiatives, thereby improving design for greater public engagement. This information may also help improve understanding of conflict in decision-making processes, and assist in the development of group facilitation and management tools that break down barriers between interest groups, thereby improving collaboration and outcomes in decision-making processes.
Message vs Messenger: A Few Depressing Realities about Climate Change Communication
* Donald Hine, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Can personal video narratives created by climate scientists to motivate the general public to address climate change? And, if so, which features of messages and messengers are most motivating? A Qualtrics online panel, comprised of, 581 US residents, completed an online survey. Each participant viewed a random sample of 6 videos (from a set of 40) from the More than Scientists website, depicting climate scientists explaining why climate change was personally important to them. Each video was coded on a range of measures assessing message (e.g., rationality, emotional tone, present/future orientation, etc.), and messenger (sex, age, attractiveness, etc.) attributes. Following each video, participants were asked how motivated they were to take climate action. Multilevel modelling indicated that messengers who were older, male, attractive, and in natural settings were most motivating. Moderation analyses revealed messenger attractiveness was particularly motivating for female viewers and those with left-leaning political orientations. None of the message content variables significantly predicted motivation. The study highlights the importance of selecting the right messenger when engaging the public about climate change. But it also raises important questions about how to best balance the need for effective climate change messaging with other societal considerations such as messenger diversity and gender equality.
Psychological Distance and the Theory of Planned Behavior in Sustainable Food Choices
* Peter Sugrue, University of Victoria, Canada
A high construal-level behavior (HCLB)—choice of food for the distant future—and a low construal-level behavior (LCLB)—immediate choice of food—were examined for differences in how they were predicted by the theory of planned behavior (TPB). A proposed additional TPB variable, desire, was also analyzed after controlling for other TPB variables and general motivations for food choice. Logistic regression was used to evaluate the value of specific predictors to outcomes of choice. For the LCLB, behavioral attitudes toward sustainable food was the only significant TPB predictor in the model, but it was rendered insignificant upon the inclusion of desire. For the HCLB, desire was the only significant predictor in the final model. TPB variables were also considered at different construal levels; different sets of TPB items either did not specify a time frame, asked about behavior in the distant future, or asked about the next decision made. Implications for measurement and theory are discussed. For measurement, the importance of specifying compatible time frames between independent and dependent variables is considered. For theory, differences are considered for the prediction of temporally distant and immediate sustainable behaviors. Specifically, the addition of desire may help predict more temporally distant sustainable behaviors.
* Rober Gifford, University of Victoria, Canada