Psychological Contributions to Sustainability and Environmental Action
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 8:45 AM to 4:30 PM; Reception to follow
What are the health consequences of climate change?
How can we mobilize the public on environmental issues?
What does it mean to have an environmental identity?
The twenty-fifth anniversary of our first Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology will bring an international cast of prominent researchers to address these and other important questions in the field of Environmental Psychology.
The gulf between our understanding of what needs to be achieved in order to address environmental challenges, and what is actually being achieved, seems to grow ever wider.
Most campaigners and communicators have tacitly accepted that people tend to behave rationally, and that appeals to rationality can be used to spur action. This perspective is epitomized by the climate-change campaigner’s refrain “if only people knew the scale of the challenges that we confront…”. But it is a perspective has been shaken by the growing realization that appeals to scientific evidence fall far short of what is needed to motivate proportional action on climate change.
Because of these difficulties, many campaigners retreat into urging simple and – in environmental terms – relatively inconsequential behaviours (e.g. switching the TV off stand-by at night) or by building the ‘business case for sustainable development’ (“save resources, save money”).
Yet proportional responses to the challenge presented by climate change will require public appetite – and active demand – for ambitious policy interventions. How will widespread public demand for change be motivated? It is here that the psychologist’s understanding of human motivation, and the cultural context in which this is developed, will be of crucial importance.
A psychological perspective also opens opportunities for new coalitions between a wide range of third-sector organizations which can establish common cause in working to strengthen those aspects of human identity that underpin concern about a wide range of social and environmental issues.
Affective responses to environmental problems can be both a barrier and motivator of behavioral change, depending, for instance, on whether people react against the emotional or they use the emotion to attend to and prioritize pro-environmental behaviors. The purpose of the present paper is to review the likelihood that the public feels different types of affective responses and the potential benefits and downfalls of encouraging different types of affective responses to environmental problems. The paper will review research specifically examining affective responses to different environmental problems and research done in other areas that could potentially be important when considering affective responses to environmental problems. This includes reviewing research on anticipatory (e.g., fear and hope), self-reflective (e.g., guilt and pride), and moral (empathy and moral outrage) emotions. Taken from a different perspective, the larger issue is not whether these emotions backfire or are helpful but rather the issue is whether the general public feels anything at all such as when they report not feeling at risk for climate change because of temporal discounting. This suggest that research on apathy (such as in the achievement domain) can be helpful when considering responses to environmental problems.
Reframing climate change as a human health issue: Why and how
Most Americans view climate change as a distant threat – temporally (not now), geographically (not here), socially (not me and mine), and with regard to the species that they believe are likely to be seriously harmed (penguins, plants, and polar bears perhaps, but not people). In reality, the health of Americans is already being harmed by climate change, and the magnitude of this harm is likely to get much worse if effective actions are not soon taken to limit climate change, and to help communities successfully adapt to unavoidable changes in their climate. Therefore, public health professionals have a responsibility to inform communities about these risks and how these harms can be averted. Furthermore, we hypothesize that efforts to educate the public about the human health dimensions of climate change – especially the local dimensions – can help enhance public engagement in the issue, and can encourage community response to the threat. Over the past several years, we have conducted a series of studies (using in-depth interviews, surveys, and a randomized message testing experiment) to explore a set of inter-related issues regarding how to effectively communicate the public health relevance of climate change, and the impact of that communication. These studies examined public awareness of health impacts associated with climate change, the perspectives of public health officials (local public health department director’s and public information officials) about climate change and health, and whether framing climate change as a public health issue improves public engagement in the issue. Using these findings, we developed a climate change communication primer to guide public health communication efforts. Dr. Maibach will present the results of this research, demonstrate how these results informed the communication primer, and provide preliminary reactions to the primer by public health officials.
Environmental identity: Self and nature in social context
An environmental identity is a sense of oneself that is connected to, or interdependent with, the natural environment. The extent to which people have an environmental identity is a matter of degree, so that people may feel that their self-concept is more or less bound up in the natural world, just as they may feel that they are more or less defined by their gender or ethnic group. A strong environmental identity predicts greater concern and sense of similarity with natural entities, as well as more proenvironmental behavior. But what is the social function of an environmental identity? This talk will discuss the way in which environmental identity is developed within a social context; the social implications of an environmental identity; and the way in which other aspects of social identity, such as cultural context and political ideology, affect the way in which people respond to the natural environment and environmental issues.
Linda Steg, University of Groningen, the Netherlands
Normative considerations and pro-environmental action
Acting pro-environmentally is often associated with higher costs (e.g., money, time, or effort). This implies that normative goals to act pro-environmentally often conflict with gain and hedonic goals to save costs and effort. I will present research conducted by the environmental psychology group at the University of Groningen on how normative goals can be strengthened as to promote pro-environmental action. I will particularly discuss research on values, social norms, and the activation of personal norms.
Campbell's paradigm: (Environmental) Attitudes in action
In psychology, we are accustomed to separating attitudes and behaviors into two conceptual categories. As a consequence, we have come to believe that personal evaluations are more revealing of a person's attitude than what he or she actually does. Fueled by recurrent findings that seem to substantiate an inconsistency between evaluative statements, one's attitudes, and one's behavior, psychologists have ceased to believe in Campbell's (1963) notion of attitudes as "acquired behavioral dispositions," in which these attitudes are directly traceable from people's behavioral records. If attitudes are, as Campbell claims, obvious in what people do, this necessarily requires attitude (derived from evaluative statements) and behavior (observed or derived from self-reported past behavior) to be highly consistent. Yet, the opposite, an attitude-behavior gap seems omnipresent in psychology, including conservation psychology. In opposition to common knowledge in conservation psychology (and other subdisciplines), I will present an attitude model--grounded in Campbell's notion--that describes the engagement into a specific behavior, such as glass recycling, through the arithmetic difference between one's general environmental attitude and the composite of all behavioral costs involved with implementing glass recycling. Contrary to Campbell (1963) though, I employ the probabilistic variant of what he thought represents a Guttman-like and, thus, deterministic connection between a person's general (environmental) attitude and the very person's specific (conservation) behaviors (see Kaiser, Byrka, & Hartig, 2010). In my presentation, I will detail the constituents of and extant evidence for a paradigm for attitude research that describes individual (conservation) behavior as a function of a person's general (environmental) attitude level and the costs of the specific (conservation) behavior involved. With this version of Campbell's paradigm, I propose a conceptual and, thus, a formal rather than causal relationship between an attitude and its corresponding performances.
Dragons, honeybees, and mules: Toward a more complete account of pro-environmental behavior
Research and the standard models of pro-environmental behavior acknowledge a large gap between intention and action, but do not offer much in the way of an explanation or potential solution to a more complete account of pro-environmental behavior. What lies in the large gap between intention and behavior? I would suggest three general constructs for filling the gap. “Dragons” are more than two dozen impediments to action, and one of our studies shows that they can account for 50% of the variance in pro-environmental choices by themselves. “Honeybees” are overlooked people whose actions are pro-environmental but who do not have the traditional precursors to action proposed by the theory of reasoned action or value-belief-norm theory. In fact, honeybees often have no environmental thrust at all. “Mules” are the main traditional people who have the right values, beliefs, and norms and follow through with action. When trying to explain pro-environmental behavior, we need to consider not only the mules, but also the dragons and the honeybees.
Pursuing self-esteem through accomplishments may motivate people to succeed in those areas of life on which their self-esteem is based. Three studies tested the reliability and validity of a scale measuring environmental contingency of self-worth, and whether it predicts engaging in pro-environmental behavior. In Study 1, the scale was reliable, valid, and predicted engaging in an actual pro-environmental behavior. Studies 2 and 3 further tested and confirmed the validity of this scale and confirmed that it predicted self-reported pro-environmental behavior among more diverse samples. Environmental contingency of self-worth seems to be a reliable and powerful predictor of engaging in pro-environmental behavior.
P. Wesley Schultz, California State University San Marcos
P. Wesley Schultz is Professor of Psychology at California State University, San Marcos. His research involves the application of social psychological theory and methods to the understanding and solution of social problems. Recent projects have included laboratory experiments on implicit environmental attitudes, lab and field research on stereotypes and stereotype threat, field research on environmental programs, studies on normative social influence, and cross-cultural research on the relationship between culture, attitudes, and behavior.
Allen Omoto, Claremont Graduate University
Allen M. Omoto is a Professor of Psychology in the Division of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences at the Claremont Graduate University. He is a social psychologist whose research interests focus on interpersonal processes, and specifically on social and psychological aspects of volunteerism and broader civic and political engagement. He is also interested in issues related to HIV disease and to lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) concerns. His recent research includes a multi-year, multi-site field-based intervention study creating and tracking the physical and mental health effects of psychological sense of community among people affected by HIV disease. In addition, he and his collaborators have used qualitative and quantitative methodologies in examining motives for and effects of volunteering and political involvement, ethnic group differences in perceptions and engagement in environmental causes, and sources of stress and resilience among LGB immigrants. His research has been supported by federal and foundation sources, and has been published in peer reviewed journal articles, chapters, and other professional outlets. In addition to his research, Dr. Omoto has considerable policy-relevant experience and also has been involved in governance activities in a number of professional associations and societies.
Location and Registration
Students - $25
Professionals and Academics - $50
Licensed Psychologists w/Continuing Education Units - $75
The symposium will take place at:
the Stauffer Hall of Learning
Claremont Graduate University
921 North Dartmouth Ave
Claremont, CA 91711
Claremont Graduate University is located off of the I-10 Freeway, around 30 miles east of Los Angeles, CA.
For more information, e-mail Richard Dowlat, External Affairs Coordinator for the Division of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences in the School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (909) 607-9013.