Sustainability, Social Norms, and Satisfaction: Our Favorite Behavior Change Studies of 2018

Katie Williamson
Dec 21, 2018 · 4 min read

It’s been another eventful year for the world of conservation. From the movement to ban plastic straws, to the latest IPCC report, to regulatory wins and losses for natural resource protection, it can be hard to tell where we’re making progress. So let’s celebrate the end of 2018 with some bright spots. Here are our top picks for research articles on the intersection of behavior change and conservation.

How behavioral science can help conservation

The title says it all. Joshua Cinner offers an overview of opportunities for using behavioral science in conservation programs. In particular, the article highlights the roles of cognitive biases and social influences: status quo bias, anchoring, issue framing, and decoys all make an appearance as well as social norms, observability, block leaders, and public commitments. Each bias and influence is accompanied by an example of where it could be applied in the field. The article ends with a word of caution: practitioners must be mindful of local context and understand which interventions will be most appropriate for a given target audience, location, and behavior.

Read it here: Cinner, J. (2018). How behavioral science can help conservation. Science.

Nudging pro-environmental behavior: Evidence and opportunities

Which behavioral interventions work for which context? Hilary Byerly et al.’s literature review examines 160 interventions across six domains of environmental behavior: family planning, land management, meat consumption, transportation choices, waste production, and water use. The interventions compare eight different strategies to change behavior, such as changing the decision context, the messenger of information, or financial incentives. Their results show that behavioral interventions work well across environmental domains, especially as compared to strategies that rely only on education. The authors also share remaining research gaps for applying nudging and behavioral science toward pro-environmental behavior.

Read it here: Byerly, H., Balmford, A., Ferraro, P. J., Hammond Wagner, C., Palchak, E., Polasky, S., … & Fisher, B. (2018). Nudging pro‐environmental behavior: evidence and opportunities. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 16(3), 159–168.

Behavior change interventions to reduce illegal fishing

This article takes a deeper dive into guidelines for applying behavioral science to a particular natural resource challenge: illegal fishing. Willow Battista et al. review what has been done to address the problem, highlight core drivers of illegal fishing, and argue that behavioral interventions can complement or be alternatives to traditional approaches, such as regulations. The authors further suggest that field sites with fewer resources and small-scale settings are great places to try behavioral interventions. Check out the article to find five proposed steps to designing and implementing behavioral interventions.

Read it here: Battista, W., Romero-Canyas, R., Smith, S. L., Fraire, J., Effron, M., Larson-Konar, D., & Fujita, R. (2018). Behavior change interventions to reduce illegal fishing. Frontiers in Marine Science, 5, 403.

Isolating the effect of injunctive norms on conservation behavior: New evidence from a field experiment in California

Past studies have shown the effects of norms on environmental behavior, but Syon Bhanot’s study is one of the first to demonstrate the independent role of injunctive norms — what we think other people expect us to do — on water use in California. The experiment tested four different types of emails containing home water reports with over 40,000 users. The results indicate that depicting a visual, injunctive norm (i.e., a water droplet with a frowny, neutral, or smiley face) most effectively motivated water conservation, and that users were open to receiving additional information about their water use in the future.

Read it here: Bhanot, S. P. (2018). Isolating the effect of injunctive norms on conservation behavior: New evidence from a field experiment in California. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

The behavior-attitude relationship and satisfaction in pro-environmental behavior

Researchers have long been interested in the relationship between attitudes and pro-environmental behavior. Using an online survey, Myriam Ertz and Emine Sarigöllü’s study examined how behavior affects attitudes and whether feelings of satisfaction about past pro-environmental behaviors play a role. The result: the more satisfied someone is with their past behavior, the more positive attitudes they will have about that behavior’s cost and importance to them. This was especially true for public behaviors, providing guidance for practitioners to reward and encourage pro-environmental behavior when others are present.

Read it here: Ertz, M., & Sarigöllü, E. (2018). The Behavior-Attitude Relationship and Satisfaction in Proenvironmental Behavior. Environment and Behavior.

Want more? Here are other noteworthy articles from 2018:

Hall, M. P., Lewis, N. A., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2018). Believing in climate change, but not behaving sustainably: Evidence from a one-year longitudinal study. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 56, 55–62.

Jachimowicz, J. M., Hauser, O. P., O’Brien, J. D., Sherman, E., & Galinsky, A. D. (2018). The critical role of second-order normative beliefs in predicting energy conservation. Nature Human Behaviour, 2(10), 757.

Landry, N., Gifford, R., Milfont, T. L., Weeks, A., & Arnocky, S. (2018). Learned helplessness moderates the relationship between environmental concern and behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 55, 18–22.

Sumner, J. A., Carey, R. N., Michie, S., Johnston, M., Edmondson, D., & Davidson, K. W. (2018). Using rigorous methods to advance behaviour change science. Nature Human Behaviour, 2(11), 797.

Van Lange, P. A., Joireman, J., & Milinski, M. (2018). Climate change: What psychology can offer in terms of insights and solutions. Current directions in psychological science, 27(4), 269–274.

van Riper, C. J., Lum, C., Kyle, G. T., Wallen, K. E., Absher, J., & Landon, A. C. (2018). Values, motivations, and intentions to engage in proenvironmental behavior. Environment and Behavior.

Wolske, K. S., & Stern, P. C. (2018). Contributions of psychology to limiting climate change: Opportunities through consumer behavior. In Psychology and Climate Change (pp. 127–160).

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In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

Katie Williamson

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Behavior change enthusiast, environmentalist, baker, traveler, writer

In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

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