Pride tops guilt as mo­ti­va­tor for en­vi­ron­men­tal de­ci­sions

Iran Daily - - Cultural Heritage & Environment -

A lot of pro-en­vi­ron­men­tal mes­sages sug­gest that peo­ple will feel guilty if they don’t make an ef­fort to live more sus­tain­ably or takes steps to ame­lio­rate cli­mate change. But a re­cent study from Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity finds that high­light­ing the pride peo­ple will feel if they take such ac­tions may be a bet­ter way to change en­vi­ron­men­tal be­hav­iors.

Elke U. We­ber, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy and pub­lic af­fairs at Prince­ton’s Woodrow Wil­son School of Pub­lic and In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, con­ducted the study — which ap­pears in the aca­demic jour­nal PLOS ONE — along with PHD can­di­date Clau­dia R. Schnei­der (who is vis­it­ing Prince­ton’s Depart­ment of Psy­chol­ogy through the Ivy League Ex­change Scholar Pro­gram) and col­leagues at Columbia Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Mas­sachusetts Amherst, sci­ re­ported.

Past re­search has shown that an­tic­i­pat­ing how one will feel af­ter­ward plays a big role in de­ci­sion-mak­ing — par­tic­u­larly when mak­ing de­ci­sions that af­fect oth­ers.

“In sim­ple terms, peo­ple tend to avoid tak­ing ac­tions that could re­sult in neg­a­tive emo­tions, such as guilt and sad­ness, and to pur­sue those that will re­sult in pos­i­tive states, such as pride and joy,” said We­ber, who also is the Ger­hard R. Andlinger Pro­fes­sor in En­ergy and the En­vi­ron­ment.

Pro-en­vi­ron­men­tal mes­sag­ing some­times em­pha­sizes pride to spur peo­ple into ac­tion, We­ber said, but it more of­ten fo­cuses on guilt. She and her col­leagues won­dered which is the bet­ter mo­ti­va­tor in this area. To find out, they asked peo­ple from a sam­ple of 987 di­verse par­tic­i­pants re­cruited through Ama­zon’s Me­chan­i­cal Turk plat­form to think about ei­ther the pride they would feel af­ter tak­ing pro-en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tions or the guilt they would feel for not do­ing so, just be­fore mak­ing a se­ries of de­ci­sions re­lated to the en­vi­ron­ment.

The par­tic­i­pants were prompted to think about fu­ture pride or guilt by one of three meth­ods. Some were given a one-sen­tence re­minder — which re­mained at the top of their com­puter screens as they com­pleted a sur­vey — that their en­vi­ron­men­tal choices might make them ei­ther proud or guilty. Oth­ers were given five en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly or un­friendly choice sce­nar­ios and asked to con­sider how mak­ing each choice might make them feel pride or guilt. Still oth­ers were asked to write a brief es­say re­flect­ing on their fu­ture feel­ings of pride or guilt over a real up­com­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal de­ci­sion. In the end, there were six groups: One for each of the three re­flec­tion meth­ods and within each one sec­tion that con­sid­ered fu­ture pride and an­other that re­flected on fu­ture guilt.

Next, the par­tic­i­pants were asked to make five sets of choices, each with ‘green’ (en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly) or ‘brown’ (en­vi­ron­men­tally un­friendly) op­tions. In one sce­nario, for ex­am­ple, they could choose a sofa made from en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly fab­ric but avail­able only in out­dated styles, or they could pick a more modern style of sofa made from fab­ric pro­duced with harsh chem­i­cals.

In an­other sce­nario, they could pick any or all of 14 green ameni­ties for an apart­ment (such as an En­ergy Star-rated re­frig­er­a­tor), with the caveat that each one added $3 per month to the rent. A con­trol group made the same de­ci­sions with­out be­ing prompted to think about fu­ture pride or guilt.

The re­sults re­vealed a clear pat­tern across all of the groups. ‘Over­all’, We­ber said, “par­tic­i­pants who were ex­posed to an­tic­i­pa­tion of pride con­sis­tently re­ported higher pro-en­vi­ron­men­tal in­ten­tions than those ex­posed to an­tic­i­pated guilt”.

A likely ex­pla­na­tion, she said — one that’s backed up by a great deal of past re­search — is that some peo­ple re­act badly and get de­fen­sive when they’re told they should feel guilty about some­thing, mak­ing them less likely to fol­low a de­sired course of ac­tion. Thus, guilt-based en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­peals run the risk of back­fir­ing.

“Be­cause most ap­peals for pro-en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tion rely on guilt to mo­ti­vate their tar­get au­di­ence, our find­ings sug­gest a re­think­ing of en­vi­ron­men­tal and cli­mate change mes­sag­ing” to har­ness the power of pos­i­tive emo­tions like pride, We­ber said.


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