Messaging, Measurement, and Motivation: Behavior & Environment Research of 2019

Katie Williamson
Dec 20, 2019 · 4 min read

As we get ready for 2020 (eek!), we’re sharing some of the most interesting new research at the intersection of behavior and the environment from the last year. In a time when #fakenews and issue polarization are around every corner, many of our featured pieces offer a new look at the way we receive information and look to those around us (hint: social influences) for guidance and motivation.

Improving environmental interventions by understanding information flows

How does information about an environmental behavior get to the right people from the right people? In this article, de Lange, Milner-Gulland, and Keane discuss how they’ve used social-network analysis tools to uncover how information moves through groups of people. While some people may only need guidance from media channels to adopt a behavior, most people seek out validation and reinforcement from members of their social group. For example, groups with similar and highly-connected members (homophilous) tend to act more as a group but are less open to change. Groups with different, less-connected members (heterophilous) tend to act more individually and are more open to change. They also discuss how that opinion leaders in a network have incredible influence in spreading behaviors and that some individuals serve as key bridges between distinct groups.

De Lange, E., Milner-Gulland, E. J., & Keane, A. (2019). Improving environmental interventions by understanding information flows. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 34(11), 1034–1047.

Dynamic norms drive sustainable consumption: Norm-based nudging helps café customers to avoid disposable to-go-cups

Instead of signaling what people are already doing (descriptive norms) or should be doing (injunctive norms), dynamic norms serve to inform what people are starting to do as a way to motivate change towards desired behavior. In a German field study, Loschedler et al. explored whether telling people that more and more customers were switching to a reusable mug over to-go cups could have an impact on their later decision to choose a sustainable alternative in a café. The percentage of customers choosing a reusable mug increased 17.3% from the baseline during the intervention period, which amounted to 252 more reusable cups. Although the application of dynamic norms to behavior change is relatively new, its results in the environmental field encourage additional research.

Loschelder, D. D., Siepelmeyer, H., Fischer, D., & Rubel, J. A. (2019). Dynamic norms drive sustainable consumption: Norm-based nudging helps café customers to avoid disposable to-go-cups. Journal of Economic Psychology.

Messaging matters: A systematic review of the conservation messaging literature

It’s time to take stock of strategic messaging in the conservation field. Kidd et al. conducted the first review of published conservation messaging studies and analyzed 89 papers from a range of disciplines. Based on a number of shortcomings, they developed four key recommendations: 1) develop a clearer link between theory and strategy; 2) use more audience segmentation; 3) focus more on assessing effectiveness; and 4) go beyond awareness raising. These reveal both room for improvement as well as opportunities to strengthen efforts on biodiversity conservation.

Kidd, L. R., Garrard, G. E., Bekessy, S. A., Mills, M., Camilleri, A. R., Fidler, F., … & Louis, W. (2019). Messaging matters: A systematic review of the conservation messaging literature. Biological conservation, 236, 92–99.

Measuring pro-environmental behavior: Review and recommendations

There are many approaches for measuring environmental behavior, yet there is no standard usage of them, even among validated methods. Lange and Dewitte provide an overview of assessment tactics and discuss each one’s pros and cons. This includes a) self reports (i.e., target individuals tell you what they’re doing through surveys or interviews), b) field observation methods (i.e., others describe the target individuals’ behavior in the world, such as informant reports, trained observers, or measurement devices), and c) laboratory observations (i.e., set up controlled conditions to measure target individuals’ behavior). If you want to measure individual differences and personality factors related to behavior, self-report methods may be more useful than field or lab observations. But if you want to measure causal mechanisms, then field and lab experiments may be your best option.

Lange, F., & Dewitte, S. (2019). Measuring pro-environmental behavior: Review and recommendations. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 63, 92–100.

Can’t get enough? Check out these other articles published this year:

Meta-analysis of pro-environmental behaviour spillover.
Maki, A., Carrico, A. R., Raimi, K. T., Truelove, H. B., Araujo, B., & Yeung, K. L.

For US wildlife management, social science needed now more than ever.
Manfredo, M. J., Salerno, J., Sullivan, L., & Berger, J.

Effective strategies for rebutting science denialism in public discussions.
Schmid, P., & Betsch, C.

How conservation initiatives go to scale.
Mills, M., Bode, M., Mascia, M. B., Weeks, R., Gelcich, S., Dudley, N., … & Biggs, D.

Moral licensing, moral cleansing and pro-environmental behaviour: The moderating role of pro-environmental attitudes.
Gholamzadehmir, M., Sparks, P., & Farsides, T.

Psychological barriers to environmentally responsible consumption.
Dursun, I.

Social-ecological alignment and ecological conditions in coral reefs.
Barnes, M. L., Bodin, Ö., McClanahan, T. R., Kittinger, J. N., Hoey, A. S., Gaoue, O. G., & Graham, N. A.

Neither hope nor fear: Empirical evidence should drive biodiversity conservation strategies.
Kidd, L. R., Bekessy, S. A., & Garrard, G. E.

Perceived social consensus can reduce ideological biases on climate change
Goldberg, M. H., van der Linden, S., Leiserowitz, A., & Maibach, E.

Stay updated on Rare’s Center for Behavior & the Environment news by subscribing to the Behavior Beat.

In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

Katie Williamson

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Behavior change enthusiast at Rare, environmentalist, baker, traveler, writer

In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

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