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Commitment and Behavior Change: A Meta-Analysis and Critical Review of Commitment-Making Strategies in Environmental Research

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Commitment and Behavior Change: A Meta-Analysis and Critical Review of Commitment-Making Strategies in Environmental Research

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Commitment making is commonly regarded as an effective way to promote proenvironmental behaviors. The general idea is that when people commit to a certain behavior, they adhere to their commitment, and this produces long-term behavior change. Although this idea seems promising, the results are mixed. In the current article, the authors investigate whether and why commitment is effective. To do so, the authors first present a meta-analysis of environmental studies containing a commitment manipulation. Then, the authors investigate the psychological constructs that possibly underlie the commitment effect. They conclude that commitment making indeed leads to behavior change in the short- and long term, especially when compared with control conditions. However, a better understanding is needed of the possible underlying mechanisms that guide the commitment effect. The authors see commitment making as a potentially useful technique that could be improved by following up on findings from fundamental research. They provide suggestions for future research and recommendations for improving the effectiveness of commitment-making techniques.
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Environment and Behavior
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DOI: 10.1177/0013916511411477
2013 45: 3 originally published online 9 June 2011Environment and Behavior
Anne Marike Lokhorst, Carol Werner, Henk Staats, Eric van Dijk and Jeff L. Gale
Research
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Commitment and Behavior Change: A Meta-Analysis and Critical
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Environment and Behavior
45(1) 3 –34
© 2013 SAGE Publications
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DOI: 10.1177/0013916511411477
http://eab.sagepub.com
1
Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands
2
University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA
3
Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Anne Marike Lokhorst, Wageningen University, Communication Science,
P.O. Box 8130, 6700 EW Wageningen, Netherlands
Email: annemarike.lokhorst@wur.nl
Commitment and
Behavior Change:
A Meta-Analysis
and Critical Review
of Commitment-
Making Strategies in
Environmental Research
Anne Marike Lokhorst
1
, Carol Werner
2
,
Henk Staats
3
, Eric van Dijk
3
, and Jeff L. Gale
2
Abstract
Commitment making is commonly regarded as an effective way to promote
proenvironmental behaviors. The general idea is that when people commit to a
certain behavior, they adhere to their commitment, and this produces long-term
behavior change. Although this idea seems promising, the results are mixed. In
the current article, the authors investigate whether and why commitment is
effective. To do so, the authors first present a meta-analysis of environmental
studies containing a commitment manipulation. Then, the authors investigate
the psychological constructs that possibly underlie the commitment effect.
They conclude that commitment making indeed leads to behavior change
in the short- and long term, especially when compared with control condi-
tions. However, a better understanding is needed of the possible underlying
mechanisms that guide the commitment effect. The authors see commitment
Article
4 Environment and Behavior 45(1)
making as a potentially useful technique that could be improved by fol-
lowing up on findings from fundamental research. They provide suggestions
for future research and recommendations for improving the effectiveness of
commitment-making techniques.
Keywords
commitment, meta-analysis, review, attitudes, behavior, environment, norms,
self-concept
As threats of environmental degradation loom, there is an increased need to
determine how to induce people to adopt more environmentally friendly behav-
iors. In addition to legal regulations and financial incentives, there is a clear
interest in stimulating people to voluntarily change their environmental behav-
iors. A number of intervention techniques are available to accomplish this
(see, for example, Abrahamse, Steg, Vlek, & Rothengatter, 2005). One very
popular method is to ask people to make a promise or pledge to do something
for the environment (indeed, the term environmental pledge yielded 115,000
hits in an April, 2011, Google search). Examples of such “commitment” manip-
ulations abound: for instance, Monash University in Melbourne, Australia,
encourages students to pledge to make sustainable lifestyle changes (http://
fsd.monash.edu.au/environmental-sustainability/monash-environmental-
pledge) and children in Northern Ireland can make an online pledge to start
living sustainably, As Sustainable As Possible (ASAP; http://www.baglad-
yproductions.org). In the United States, it is common for communities to hold
“challenges” in which citizens sign up and promise to change an environmen-
tally harmful behavior. For example, currently in Utah, the governor and local
mayors have initiated a “Clear the Air” challenge to encourage citizens to reduce
their automobile driving to improve air quality. What is the appeal of these
pledges and challenges, and can they be made more effective if they are designed
to activate particular psychological processes? This article examines the psy-
chological literature that appears to support commitment making as a particu-
larly effective behavior change strategy.
One reason for their popularity is that commitments are thought to yield
substantial and durable change. By substantial, we mean changes in behavior
that are large enough to have an environmental impact, and by durable we
mean changes that will last for the long term, without the need for reminders
or further interventions (Cialdini, 2001). This article examines the validity of
the assumption that commitments are an effective and durable behavior change
Lokhorst et al. 5
technique. A second goal is to explore what psychological processes underlie
this possible effect of commitment making on behavior.
The most recent review on commitment strategies in the environmental
domain was done by Katzev and Wang in 1994. Consistent with Katzev and
Wang’s (1994) distinction between measured and manipulated commitment,
we focus exclusively on commitment manipulations in which “a commitment
is brought about by eliciting from individuals a pledge to perform a particular
act” (p. 13). The current article extends Katzev’s and Wang’s article in two ways.
First, we provide a meta-analysis of studies containing a commitment manipu-
lation, enabling us to test whether across studies, commitment making truly
affects environmental behavior. In addition, whereas their review focused on
the effects of commitment, we review and explore psychological processes
proposed to underlie commitment effects. Finally, we discuss the implications
of this review for empirical research and suggest how commitment interven-
tions can be improved.
Meta-Analysis
Although commitment making and public challenges are popular with the pub-
lic, a superficial examination of the environmental literature shows that com-
mitment has had mixed results, sometimes being successful in the short- and long
term, but other times being no different from other interventions or even con-
trol conditions (see Table 1). A meta-analysis can combine this mix of findings
and determine whether—on the whole—the treatment has an overall significant
effect compared with control and other treatment conditions. We examine two
kinds of commitment, commitment only and commitment plus another inter-
vention, and compare these with control conditions in the short- (i.e., during
the intervention) and long term (usually after people have been released from
their commitment). We also compare these two commitment conditions with
other interventions (e.g., feedback). Testing the effectiveness of combined
interventions is consistent with the proposal that complex interventions are
required to effect durable change in a world where people are distracted by
competing demands and new behaviors are easily forgotten (Brown, Werner,
& Kim, 2003; Werner, 2003).
Sample of Studies
We searched scientific databases (EBSCO, SAGE, Elsevier, A-informaworld,
Web of Science, and Science Direct) using the terms commitment, pledge, and
behavioral contracting with a large variety of environmental topics such as
6
Table 1. Summary of Environmental Studies Using a Commitment Manipulation
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Bachman
and Katzev
(1982)
Two DVs:
1. Number of bus
rides;
2. Percentage
who rode at
least once.
1. C-only: A nonbinding
personal commitment to
ride bus twice per week
for 4 weeks (n = 17);
2. C-plus: Added free tickets
(n = 17);
3. Incentive only: Free tickets
(n = 21);
4. Control (n = 20).
a. § C-only
vs. ctrl, p <
.0016, r = .49;
b. § C-only vs.
free tickets, p
< .50,
r = .001;
c. § Free ticket
vs. ctrl,
p < .01
a. § C+ free tickets
vs. ctrl, p < .001,
r = .51;
b. § C+ free tickets
vs. C-only, p < .50;
c . § C+ free tickets
vs. free tickets,
p < .009, r = .38
a. § C-only vs.
ctrl, p < .003,
r = .45;
b. § C-only vs.
free tickets,
p < .18, r = .15;
c. § Free ticket vs.
ctrl, p < .08
a. § C+ free
tickets vs.
ctrl, p < .001,
r = .57;
b. § C + free
tickets vs.
C-only, p < .37;
c . § C + free
tickets vs. free
tickets, p <
.02, r = .33
Bryce, Day, and
Olney (1997)
DV: Mean
number
of weeks
each group
participated
in curb-side
recycling
1. Ctrl: No C/No request to
pay for bin (n = 107);
2. C-only: Verbal C/No request
to pay for bin (n = 96);
3. Request to pay (only, no C;
n = 94);
4. C+: Verbal C and request
to pay for bin (n = 104).
a. C-only vs.
§ctrl, p < .50,
r = .00
a. § C+ request to
pay for bin vs.
request to pay for
bin, p < .05, r = .12
(continued)
7
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Burn and
Oskamp
(1986)
DV: Percentage
of households
recycling
Boy scout project; asked
resident to sign pledge
card; reminder sticker
given in both commitment
conditions:
1. C-only (n = 62);
2. C+ a persuasive message
(n = 62);
3. Persuasive message only
(n = 77);
4. Control (n = 132).
a. § C-only vs.
ctrl, p < .05,
r = .12;
b. § C-only vs.
persuasive
message
only, p < .50.,
r = .00;
c. § Persuasive
message
only vs. ctrl,
p < .05.
a. § C+ persuasive
message vs. ctrl,
p < .05, r = .12;
b. § C+ persuasive
message vs.
C-only, p < .50;
c . § C+ persuasive
message vs.
persuasive
message only,
p < .50, r = .00
Cobern, Porter,
Leeming,
and Dwyer
(1995)
DV: Number of
bags of grass
cycled
Personal request. Signed card
to grass cycle for 4 weeks;
commitment public to
research team. 70% in C-only
agreed; 80% in C+ agreed;
data presented for all.
1. C-only (n = 40);
2. C+ a block leader (n = 40);
3. Control (n = 40).
a. § C-only vs.
ctrl, p < .50,
r = .00.
a. § C+ block leader
vs. ctrl, p < .05,
r = .18;
b. § C+ block leader
vs. C-only, p < .05
Immediate
follow-up:
a. § C-only vs.
ctrl, p < .50,
r = .00
Immediate
follow-up:
a. § C plus block
leader vs. ctrl,
p < .05, r = .18;
b. § C + block
leader vs.
C-only, p < .05
Table 1. (continued)
(continued)
8
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
DeLeon and
Fuqua (1995)
DV: Weight of
recycled goods
Mailed request. P signed
form and mailed back;
names to be published in
newsletter; C+ added group
performance feedback.
Signed commitment from
55% (C-only) and 75% (C+);
data presented for all.
1. C-only (n = 20);
2. C+ group feedback (n = 19);
3. Group feedback, no
commitment (n = 19);
4. Control (n = 18).
a. § C-only:
baseline vs.
intervention,
p < .50, r =
.00;
b. § Feedback:
baseline vs.
intervention,
p < .14;
c. § Ctrl:
baseline vs.
intervention,
p < .50
a. § C+ group
feedback: baseline
vs. intervention, p
< .02, r = .47
Dickerson,
Thibodeau,
Aronson, and
Miller (1992)
Two DVs:
1. Total shower
time;
2. Proportion
who turned off
water while
showering
Commitment: signed pledge
that would be made
public;Hypocrisy (C+):
Commitment plus prior
waste made salient
1. C-only (n = 20);
2. C+ waste salient
(hypocrisy; n = 20);
3. Waste salient only (n = 20);
4. Control (n = 20).
a. § C-only vs.
ctrl, p < .17,
r = .15;
b. § C-only vs.
waste salient
only, p < .50,
r = .00;
c. § Waste
salient only vs.
ctrl, p < .17
a. § C+ waste salient
(hypocrisy), vs. ctrl,
p < .04, r = .28;
b. § C+ waste salient
(hypocrisy) vs.
C-only, p < .50;
c . § C+ waste salient
(hypocrisy) vs.
waste salient only,
p < .50, r = .00.
Table 1. (continued)
(continued)
9
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Gonzales,
Aronson, and
Costanzo
(1988)
Two DVs:
1. Make changes
recommended
in home audit;
2. Take loan to
make changes
Commitment: energy
auditors “involved”
homeowners in audit
and asked for verbal
commitment to make
changes by target date.
1. Commitment plus vivid
message and negative
frame (n = 123);
2. Control (audit without
intervention; n = 122).
a. § C+ vividness and
negative frame vs.
ctrl, p < .02,
r = .13.
Katzev and
Pardini
(1987-1988)
Two DVs:
1. Frequency of
recycling;
2. Weight of
recycled
newspapers
Undergraduate
experimenter; resident
signed form making
a 5-week recycling
commitment; both
experimenter and resident
kept copy of form
1. C-only (n = 15);
2. C+ token (n = 15);
3. Token only (n = 14);
4. Control (n = 15).
a. § C-only vs.
ctrl, p < .003,
r = .50;
b. § C-only vs.
token, p <
.50, r = .00
c. § Token vs.
ctrl, p < .05
a. § C+ token vs.
ctrl, p < .01, r =
.43;
b. C+ token vs.
C-only, p < .50;
c . § C+ token vs.
token only, p <
.50, r = .00.
3-week
follow-up:
a. § C-only vs. ctrl,
p < .50, r = .00;
b. § C-only vs.
token, p < .50,
r = .00;
c. § Token vs. ctrl,
p < .50.
3-week
follow-up:
a. § C+ token
vs. ctrl, p <
.30, r = .18;
b. § C+ token vs.
C-only, p < .50;
c . § C+ token
vs. token only,
p < .12,
r = .22.
Table 1. (continued)
(continued)
10
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Lokhorst, van
Dijk, Staats,
van Dijk, and
De Snoo
(2010)
Four DVs:
1. Attitude toward
conservation;
2. Desire to
conserve;
3. Area of
seminatural
habitat
4. Time spent on
conservation
Commitment plus feedback
re: Nature conservation;
commitment made in group
of farmer friends
1. Commitment plus
feedback (n = 16);
2. Feedback only (n = 18);
3. Control (n = 24).
a. After 1 year,
C+ feedback
had made
more changes
than ctrl, p <
.20, r = .15
Matthies,
Klöckner,
and Preiβner
(2006)
DV: Use of
alternative
transportation
Personal request; written
commitment, public
to research team. All
committed but only 38/191
participants chose to
commit to transit.
1. C-only (n = 61);
2. C+ “thaw”; thaw = free ticket
during Phase 1 (introductory
period; n = 130);
3. No intervention control
(n = 53).Measured personal
norm to reduce auto use
for all groups
a. Covarying
personal
norm,
commitment
predicts
trying
transit, mean
across three
phases, p <
.032, r = .11.
a. C+ prior free
ticket, mean across
three phases, p <
.057, r = .09;
b. C by personal
norm interaction
(i.e., C+ high
personal norm),
Phase 3, p < .03,
r = .11.
Follow-up
(Week 25):
a. No ME
for C-only
predicting DV,
p < .50;
b. Covarying
personal norm,
commitment
predicts trying
transit, p < .05,
r = .12
Follow-up
(Week 25):
a. C+ prior free
ticket, p <
.50.,
r = .00;
b. C by
personal
norm
interaction
(i.e., C+ high
personal
norm), p <
.08, r = .08
Table 1. (continued)
(continued)
11
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Pallak, Cook,
and Sullivan
(1980)
Pallak and
Cummings
(1976)For
short-term
effects
of self-
monitoring
Two DVs:
1. Meter reading
for natural gas;
2. Meter reading
for electricity.
Signed consent form.
“C+ public” understood
names would be in paper
as “public spirited fuel-
conserving citizens.
Both public and private
commitment groups
heard 20 min message
about effective ways to
save energy.Sample ns for
natural gas/electricity:
1. C-private (ns = 19/33);
2. C+ public (ns = 22/33);
3. Control (ns = 24/40);
4. C-private plus self-
monitoring, electricity only
(n = 0/36).
a. § C-private
vs. ctrl, p <
.50, r = .00
a. § C+ public vs.
ctrl, p < .005,
r = .24;
b. § C+ public vs.
C-private, p <
.005;
c. § C-private plus
self-monitoring vs.
ctrl, p < .05,
r = .19;
d. C-private plus
self-monitoring
vs. § C+ public, p
< .50;
e. § C-private plus
self-monitoring vs.
C-private, p < .05
12-month
follow-up
(6-month high-
use periods
only)
a. § C-private vs.
ctrl, p < .50,
r = .00
12-month
follow-up
(6-month
high-use
period only)
a. § C+ public
vs. ctrl, p <
.01, r = .21;
b. § C+ public
vs. C-private,
p < .01;
c. § C-private
plus self-
monitoring
vs. ctrl, p <
.05, r = .19;
d. C-private
plus self-
monitoring
vs. § C+
public,
Table 1. (continued)
(continued)
12
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
p < .50, r = .00;
e. § C-private
plus self-
monitoring vs.
C-private,
p < .05
Pardini and
Katzev
(1983-1984)
Two DVs:
1. Frequency of
recycling;
2. Weight of
recycled goods.
1. Commitment weak
(C-weak): Face to face
verbal commitment (n = 9);
2. Commitment strong
(C-strong): Face to face
signed commitment (n = 9);
3. Control: Information only
(n = 9).
a. § C-weak vs.
ctrl, p < .057,
r = .37;
b. § C-strong
vs. ctrl, p <
.02, r = .48;
c. § C-strong
vs. C-weak,
p < .50
Weeks 3 and 4:
a. C-weak vs.
§ctrl, p < .50,
r = .00;
b. §C-strong vs
ctrl, p < .05,
r = .39;
c. § C-strong vs.
C-weak, p < .03
Shippee and
Gregory
(1982)
DV: Meter
reading
1. Mild commitment:
Newspaper ad thanking
for conserving, listing
names of firms in program
(n = 6);
2. Strong commitment:
Newspaper ad thanking for
conserving and
a. § C-mild vs.
ctrl, p < .03,
r = .57
a. § C-strong vs. ctrl,
p < .03, r = .59;
b. C-strong vs. §
C-mild, p < .03
(continued)
Table 1. (continued)
13
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
listing amount conserved by
each firm (n = 5);
3. Control: No newspaper ad
(n = 5)
Wang and
Katzev
(1990)
Experiment 1
DV:Weight of
recycled paper
Retirement home ABA
design; Group meeting;
17 of 22 signed group
commitment
a. § C-only vs.
baseline, p <
.003, r = .41
4-week follow-up
a. § C vs. baseline,
p < .004,
r = .40
Wang and
Katzev
(1990)
Experiment 2
Two DVs:
1. Frequency of
recycling;
2. Weight of
recycled goods
College dorms
1. Commit as group
(C-group): Two group
meetings, then signed
group form (1 refused; n =
10 rooms).
2. C-individual: One contact,
signed individual form (1
refused; n = 14 rooms);
3. Incentive: Coupons to local
stores for recycling (n = 12
rooms);
4. Control: Information only
(n = 14 rooms).
a. § C-group vs.
ctrl, p < .06,
r = .32;
b. §
C-individual
vs. ctrl, p <
.12, r = .22;
c . §
C-individual
vs. C-group,
p < .20;
d. § Incentive
vs. ctrl, p <
.06
4-week follow-up
a. § C-group vs.
ctrl, p < .36,
r = .07;
b. § C-individual
vs. ctrl, p < .12,
r = .22;
c. § C-individual
vs. C-group,
p < .50;
d. § Incentive vs.
ctrl, p < .36
Table 1. (continued)
(continued)
14
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Werner et al.
(1995)
DV: Frequency of
recycling
1. Signed commitment (n =
53) vs. information via
2. flyer (n = 136),
3. telephone (n = 78), or
4. face to face (n = 52).
Random assignment not
retained; households
placed into groups by
treatment received
4-month
follow-up
a. § Signed
commitment
vs. flyer, p < .05,
r = .12;
b. § Signed
commitment
vs. telephone, p
< .05, r = .14;
c. § Signed
commitment
vs. face to face,
p < .50, r = .00
Winett
et al. (1982),
Experiment 1
Two DVs:
1. Mean house
temperature at
three times of
the day;
2. Electricity use
from meter
Commitment: Participants
signed commitment form to
obtain energy use feedback.
Information: No feedback/
no commitment.
1. Commitment and feedback
plus discussion video
(n = 16);
2. Commitment and feedback
plus modeling video (n = 17);
3. Information plus discussion
video (n = 14).
a. § C+ Feedback
and modeling vs.
ctrl, p < .01, r =
.38;
b. § C+ Feedback
and discussion vs.
ctrl, p < .01,
r = .39;
c. § Information and
modeling vs. ctrl,
p < .01
a.§ C+
Feedback and
modeling vs.
ctrl, p < .01, r
= .38;b.§ C+
Feedback and
discussion vs.
ctrl, p < .12;
r = .20;c.§
Information
and modeling
vs. ctrl,
Table 1. (continued)
(continued)
15
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
4. Information plus modeling
video (n = 16)
5. Control (n = 20)
p < .03
Winett, Love,
Stahl, Chinn,
and Leckliter
(1983)
DV: Meter
reading of
electricity use;
See Note re:
temperature
data.
Presentation w/ video by
experimenter; some in
group setting, some alone
at home. “Commitment”
included discussion.
1. Modeling/video/ group/
commitment (n = 14);
2. Modeling/video/group/No
commitment (n = 9);
3. Modeling/video/at home/
commitment (n = 13);
4. Modeling/video/at home/
no commitment (n = 13);
5. Ctrl (volunteered to
participate but not given
treatment; n = 31).
Across warm and
cool summer days:
1. § Modeling/
video/ group/
commitment vs.
ctrl, p < .01, r = .35;
2. § Modeling/
video/at home/
commitment vs.
ctrl, p < .01, r = .35;
3. § Modeling/
video/ group/no
commitment vs.
ctrl, p < .01;
4. § Modeling/video/
at home/no
commitment vs.
ctrl, p < .01;
5. § Modeling/video/
group/
(continued)
Table 1. (continued)
16
Author (date)
Dependent
variables (DVs) Commitment manipulation
Commitment effective: Short term
(treatment in place)
Commitment effective: Long
term (treatment ended)
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Commitment
only
Commitment
plus
Random assignment not
retained; households placed
into groups by treatment
received
commitment
vs. Modeling
video/group/no
commitment, p <
.50, r = .00;
6. § Modeling/
video/at home/
commitment vs.
Modeling/video/
at home/no
commitment, p <
.50, r = .00.
Note: Articles are listed in alphabetical order. C-only = commitment only; C+ = commitment plus another intervention; C-private = commitment private;
C+ public = commitment public; ctrl = control; ME = main effect; ABA = within-subjects design; r = index of effect size, and presence of this statistic
indicates that this comparison was included in meta-analyses shown in Table 2. Comparisons without effect sizes are included for the interested reader.
Significance levels are indicated. Regardless of significance, an “§” marks which of the two groups being compared improved the most. We use “improved”
rather than “increased” or “decreased” because whether an increase or decrease is desired varies with the study (e.g., for water and electricity, a
reduction in use is desired, whereas for recycling, an increase is desired).
Additional commitment studies not included in this review:
DeYoung et al. (1995). Recycling study. Unclear how many residents had been contacted with commitment request.
McCaul and Kopp (1982). Recycling study. Did not include a control condition.
Reams and Ray (1992-1993). Recycling study, comparing Information only, Indirect commitment (left form for residents to sign); Direct commitment (face
to face request for signed commitment). Did not provide separate comparisons.
Winett et al. (1982). Second experiment, not clear if commitment manipulation was included.
Winett et al. (1983). Comparison group reduced to less than half for temperature data, therefore we did not include temperature data.
Table 1. (continued)
Lokhorst et al. 17
“recycling,” “conservation,” “reduction,” and “toxic products.” Studies included
in the meta-analysis were published between 1976 and 2010 and had suffi-
cient statistical information to code and transform into effect sizes. Five addi-
tional studies were found but data were not available for the meta-analysis
(see note to Table 1). In total, 19 studies were included in the analyses. We used
all dependent measures that represented environmental behavior change (e.g.,
water or power use, recycling, transit use, etc.), using z scores to average the values
(Rosenthal, 1984). We did not include measures that might be considered
mediators of the commitment to behavior relationship.
Variables Coded From Each Study
We used standard meta-analysis procedures to find, code, and analyze the
data from each study and provided the following information
1
in Table 1:
(a) year of publication, (b) sample size and level of analysis, (c) period of obser-
vation (during intervention or at follow-up), (d) type of commitment manipula-
tion (commitment only or commitment plus an additional intervention), and
(e) statistical comparisons, usually reported as post hoc tests; “not significant”
was entered as p = .50, as recommended by Rosenthal (1984) and Mullen
(1989). Average significance levels and corresponding z values, estimated
effect sizes (r values),
2
and tests of diffusion were then calculated, using
Advanced BASIC Meta-Analysis software (Mullen, 1989). To overcome the
“file drawer problem”—the possibility that unpublished studies might exist
whose results do not support the effects that the published articles show—
a fail-safe number was calculated. This number indicates the number of unpub-
lished studies with nonsignificant results that would be required to overturn
the results of the meta-analysis.
It is important to note that the level of analysis varied across studies. Although
some studies focused on individual commitments and behavior change, others
addressed household or even firmwide interventions. This information is pre-
sented in the table as well, although it is not an analyzed factor because no arti-
cles provided details about participation rates within the groups.
In addition, it should be noted that in most studies, not all participants in
the commitment conditions agreed to commit. Researchers can then choose
to either exclude them from further analysis or include them. When con-
sidered as a policy tool, one should include refusals in the overall effect.
As a psychological researcher, one might be mainly interested in the effects for
those who actually make the commitment. Not all studies were clear in how
they dealt with refusals, although some were explicit in mentioning either
exclusion (Lokhorst, van Dijk, Staats, van Dijk, & De Snoo, 2010; Shippee &
18 Environment and Behavior 45(1)
Gregory, 1982) or inclusion (DeLeon & Fuqua, 1995; Winett, Love, Stahl,
Chinn, & Leckliter, 1983). Where possible, we provide information on inclu-
sion and exclusion in Table 1; however, this variable is not evaluated in
the meta-analysis.
Results
Is Commitment Making Effective?
Intervention period. The first question is whether either kind of commitment
(commitment only or commitment plus another treatment) yields consistently
reliable effects during the intervention period. Meta-analysis results for inter-
vention periods are displayed in the left half of Table 2 and show that commit-
ment alone (row 4) and commitment plus another treatment (e.g., feedback,
incentives, persuasive messages, row 5) were significantly more effective
than control groups. The average effect sizes were similar (r = .27 for commit-
ment only and r = .31 for commitment plus another treatment), and the fail-safe
N’s were fairly robust (124 and 360, respectively), especially given the small
number of studies in the meta-analysis. The overall pattern of results suggests
that during the intervention period, both commitment alone and in combina-
tion with another treatment yield moderate and reliable effects relative to con-
trol conditions.
Follow-up period. The second question is whether commitment or commit-
ment plus another intervention led to long-term behavior change, relative to
control conditions. Results in the right half of Table 2 show that both commit-
ment only and commitment plus another treatment yielded sustained behavior
change. The average effect sizes were moderate (r = .18 for commitment only,
r = .26 for commitment plus another treatment), whereas the fail-safe N’s
were smaller than during the intervention (18 and 92, respectively), in part
because of the small number of studies providing follow-up data.
Is Commitment More Effective Than Other Interventions?
Intervention period. Obtaining commitments from participants takes extra
time and effort, and occasionally people even refuse to make the commitment.
Is it worth the effort, compared with other interventions? As shown in the lower
part of Table 2, few studies have compared commitment with other treat-
ments, so the results in Table 2 are very tentative. Comparing commitment only
and commitment plus with other interventions shows that during the intervention
period (rows 7 and 8, left side of Table 2), these comparisons yielded mixed
results, with only commitment plus yielding favorable average statistics and
even those being very small (overall z for significance levels = 1.98, p < .02, an
estimated r of .08, and a very small fail-safe N).
19
Table 2. Meta-Analyses of Commitment Research Showing Unweighted and Weighted Estimates (in Parentheses)
Intervention period Follow-up period
n
Mean significance
level (p <)
Mean z for
significance level
Fail-safe
N
Mean
estimated
effect size (r) n
Mean
significance
level (p <)
Mean z for
significance
level
Fail-safe
N
Mean
estimated
effect size
(r)
Commitment vs. control
Commitment
only
14 .00 (.01) 5.16 (2.51) 124 .27 (.14) 9 .00 (.04) 2.86 (1.79) 18 .18 (.13)
Commitment
plus another
treatment
15 .00 (.00) 8.23 (5.64) 360 .31 (.20) 9 .00 (.00) 5.50 (3.72) 92 .26 (.18)
Commitment vs. other treatment condition
Commitment
only
5 .20 (.05) 0.83 (1.65) 0 .02 (.06) 6 .01 (.00) 2.39 (2.74) 7 .09 (.10)
Commitment
plus another
treatment
8 .02 (.01) 1.98 (2.27) 4 .08 (.08) 3 .03 (.35) 1.86 (0.37) 0 .19 (.05)
Note: n = number of comparisons in meta-analysis. Fail-safe N’s are the same for weighted and unweighted analyses.
20 Environment and Behavior 45(1)
Follow-up period. In contrast, when examining long-term effects, both com-
mitment only and commitment plus another treatment yielded somewhat stron-
ger results compared with other interventions (right side of Table 2), with small
but reliable significance levels and average rs but very small buffers against
unpublished nonsignificant findings.
Presence of moderators. Diffuse comparisons, or tests of heterogeneity,
were conducted to see whether we could detect the presence of moderators
in these analyses. That is, when significance levels or effect sizes are highly
variable, it may be possible to break the set of studies into subgroups according
to moderating factors, such as types of behaviors (e.g., recycling vs. conserva-
tion) or geographic area of the research (e.g., rural vs. urban). The Bonferroni
adjusted alpha for our 16 meta-analyses (weighted/unweighted by interven-
tion/follow-up by commitment only/commitment plus by control/other) is
.03, and none of our tests of diffusion was significant (all but three p values were
> .20). Naturally, these tests are limited by the small number of commitment
studies; it is possible that as more studies are conducted, researchers will be
able to identify moderating factors.
Summary. Meta-analysis results showed that—compared with control
conditions—commitment only and commitment plus are more effective both
during the intervention and after people had been released from their commit-
ments. Results are more complex when commitment is compared with other treat-
ments. During intervention phases, commitment-plus conditions were more
effective than other conditions. However, during follow-up periods, both
commitment-only and commitment-plus conditions yielded more durable
change when compared with other typical interventions. These latter results
are tentative as they are based on a small number of studies. However, using
commitment in combination with other interventions is consistent with the idea
that in applying psychology to natural settings, it may require more than one
intervention to effect consistent behavioral change (Werner, 2003).
Theoretical Underpinnings: What
Processes Underlie Commitment Effects?
Although the meta-analysis was able to show us that commitment making is an
effective instrument for altering environmental behaviors, it could not dem-
onstrate why it is effective. To explore the possible psychological processes
underlying this effect, we now turn to a review of the commitment literature.
Current views on commitment processes are strongly influenced by the
work of Cialdini (2001). His seminal book on social influence devotes a chap-
ter to explaining commitment processes and emphasizes that for commitment
Lokhorst et al. 21
interventions to be successful, the act of committing needs to lead to fundamen-
tal changes in the individual. The individual needs to change his or her self-
concept to be in line with the new behavior, and/or the individual needs to
change cognitions, values, and attitudes, to be more favorable toward the new
behavior. It is these internalized changes that sustain the behavior over the long
term. Others have suggested that social norms guide people to adhere to their
commitments (Abrahamse et al., 2005), whereas a different line of research
examined the idea that commitment can lead the individual to develop a
personal norm that would support engaging in the behavior (Kerr, Garst,
Lewandoski, & Harris, 1997). Although these processes—self-concept, attitudes,
and social and personal norms—possibly overlap or may complement each
other, each operates a little differently, and we review each in turn.
Self-Concept and Consistency
One theme in Cialdini’s (2001) explanations for commitment’s effectiveness is
that in many societies, people have been socialized to be consistent, so when
people commit and follow-through on a behavior, they bring their self-
concept in line with the behavior. Consistent with Bem’s (1972) work on self-
perception theory, this means that if people freely choose to perform a behavior,
they believe they must have wanted to: They must believe in the cause or expect
to enjoy the behavior. When people view their behaviors as voluntary and not
coerced, they conclude that they have come to these decisions by themselves
and that their behaviors reflect their true motivations, their internal self, or
self-concept. One can think of this as a change in self-concept or as a change
in the salience of some aspect of the self (e.g., see Rhodewalt & Agustsdottir,
1986, on salience and the malleable self). Either way, this belief should cause
the behavior to continue in the future. It is important to note that such a process
does not imply mindless compliance to whatever previously made commitment
but rather a change in how people think about themselves due to what they have
committed to.
This process has been studied in a technique that closely resembles commit-
ment making, called Foot In The Door (FITD). In this technique, participants
are first asked to commit to a small request and then within a few weeks are
asked to commit to a much larger request (the actual target request); a great
deal of evidence has been found for changes in self-perception as a mediator
for this phenomenon (Burger, 1999).
Direct evidence for commitment leading to a changed self-concept comes
from a study that induced commitment and then collected related personality
measures (Burger & Caldwell, 2003). Compared with a control group, those
22 Environment and Behavior 45(1)
who had complied with a small request to support the homeless (signed a peti-
tion and wrote a brief essay), described themselves as (a) more compassionate
and (b) more willing to provide support for the homeless, and, shortly there-
after, (c) were more likely to comply with a request to volunteer for a food
drive. Mediation analysis showed that the change in self-concept mediated the
relationship between commitment and follow-through. Similar changes in self-
concept were obtained in another study (Burger & Guadagno, 2003), and both
add weight to claims that making a commitment can actually change one’s
self-concept.
The importance of a need for consistency in these processes is underscored
by research showing that people who favor consistency are more likely whereas
people who favor inconsistency and spontaneity are less likely to confirm
commitment hypotheses, especially when their initial behaviors are made salient
(Burger & Guadagno, 2003; Cialdini, Trost, & Newsom, 1995). This person-
ality-based qualifier also suggests that commitment effects will not be univer-
sal and depend on participants’ needs for consistency.
Attitudinal Approach
A related approach to understanding the effect of commitment on behavior
change is offered by a cognitive attitudinal approach. Cialdini (2003) alluded
to these processes without giving details, but there is an extensive literature
on how attitudes are changed through self-persuasion and cognitive elaboration
(i.e., people generating reasons for embracing a new attitude; e.g., Chaiken’s,
1987, Heuristic Systematic Model or HSM; Greenwald’s, 1968, Cognitive
Elaboration; and Petty & Cacioppo’s, 1986, Elaboration Likelihood Model
or ELM). There is considerable evidence that people bring their attitudes in
line with their behavior, whether because of self-perception (Bem, 1972) or
dissonance (Aronson, 1999) processes. Both of these processes require that
people feel they made their commitment voluntarily. The cognitive elabora-
tion literature complements these processes by suggesting a mechanism by
which people transform short-term commitment into long-term self-directed
behavior, that is, that people persuade themselves the commitment and new
behavior are worthwhile. In this model, attitude change takes time, as people
think about the issue and their commitment and generate reasons and favorable
attitudes. In theory, over time, the net effect is to integrate multiple favorable
cognitions into a single attitude, thereby strengthening and solidifying their
commitment to the new behavior.
A consequence of elaboration is that people create “strong,” accessible
attitudes that guide behavior (Fazio, 1990, 1995; Holland, Verplanken, & Van
Lokhorst et al. 23
Knippenberg, 2002). “Attitude strength” is a multifaceted construct that empha-
sizes that the attitude is accessible, durable, resists efforts to change it, and
predicts behavior (Petty, Haugtvedt, & Smith, 1995). If making a commitment
keeps the issue at hand salient and activates cognitive elaboration, the process
of this elaboration enables the individual to develop a strong and accessible
attitude that serves both to remind and motivate the individual to engage in the
behavior. As Pardini and Katzev (1983-1984) argued, making a commitment
to recycle may lead participants to “find their own reasons for recycling, to
begin to even like doing so, and, as a result, to continue to perform these
behaviors on their own (p. 253).”
Although the commitment-elaboration-attitude change model is appealing,
Werner et al. (1995) reviewed a number of studies showing that commitment
did not lead to attitude change, although it did lead to behavioral maintenance.
Werner et al. suggested that previous research had not allowed sufficient time
for attitudes to change. They used a 4-month period with weekly observations
and found that although participants began their study with similar recycling
behaviors (and presumably similar recycling attitudes), those who recycled for
the 4 months had final attitudes significantly more favorable than those who
did not recycle. These results did not support the idea that commitment is bet-
ter than other interventions at leading to attitude change, because all conditions,
not just commitment, showed this increase. Thus, although cognitive elabora-
tion provides a potential mechanism for connecting an initial commitment to
long-term behaviors, further research is needed to determine how elaboration
might be encouraged in relation to commitment.
Norms
Another explanation that could account for commitment effects is based on a
normative approach or concerns about what others do and think. Cialdini
(2001) provided extensive examples of social pressures (ridicule, criticism)
brought to bear on those who renege on their commitments as well as examples
of people who explained their behavioral consistency by pointing to their fear
of others’ scorn. Thus, a commitment made in public leads to adherence
because of the possible negative social sanctions that would follow for breaking
it (Abrahamse et al., 2005). This view emphasizes the importance of others’
opinions and suggests that a commitment is primarily effective if others witness
or might learn about the commitment and could possibly enforce it, even if
only through social sanctions.
3
Although the impact of public surveillance (or fears about others’ reactions)
on adherence seems plausible, this process has not been demonstrated in
24 Environment and Behavior 45(1)
commitment literature. However, it has been complemented by research on com-
mitment and internalized norms. This is particularly important because social
pressure is an external motivator, and durable behavior change is more likely if
the pressure is internal and self-directed. Theory and research on values and
norms suggests that when people perceive a problem, a need for action can be
activated by their moral values, which produces feelings of moral obligation
to perform or refrain from certain behaviors (Schwartz & Howard, 1984).
These feelings of moral obligation are personal, internalized norms. In their
research on commitment, Kerr et al. (1997) specifically pitted the social norm
explanation against the alternative explanation of a personal norm. In two
experiments, Kerr and his colleagues showed that even when no one would
know whether participants adhered to their commitments, they still kept the
promises they made to their groups. Kerr et al. concluded that their studies
offered support for the personal norm explanation (see also Kerr & Kaufman-
Gililand, 1994).
Summary
In sum, there is considerable evidence that making a commitment can activate
psychological processes related to self-concepts, attitudes, and norms and that
these processes motivate the individual to maintain the new behavior. Although
the processes have been studied independently, it is possible that they can be
seen as mutually supportive. Changes in self-concept, attitudes/cognitions,
and in personal or social norms all reflect the idea that making a voluntary com-
mitment makes salient one’s personal desire for consistency or one’s concerns
for appearing consistent to others; cognitions can be activated to support atti-
tude–behavior consistency, to strengthen moral norms, and to support a positive
view of one’s self. Ultimately, internalization can occur, yielding behaviors
that are motivated by personal, durable feelings, and beliefs.
Implications
Implications for Future Commitment Research
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that a meta-analysis has been
performed that shows that commitment making is indeed effective in altering
environmental behaviors relative to control conditions. Now that it is clear that
commitment making is effective, it is important that we try and understand why
commitment is effective: what are the mechanisms underlying this effect?
We have described three possible underlying processes responsible for the
Lokhorst et al. 25
commitment effect: self-concept and preference for consistency, attitudes and
cognitive elaboration, and personal and social norms. Unfortunately, most
of the studies we reviewed in our meta-analysis (with the exception of Dickerson,
Thibodeau, Aronson, & Miller, 1992; Matthies, Klöckner, & Preissner, 2006;
and Werner et al., 1995) do not suggest or include measures of psychological
constructs that might mediate the effect of commitment. As a consequence, it
is not possible at this point to empirically determine whether the proposed
mediators complement each other or whether they are indeed unique, with one
or another having the greatest effect on behavior.
What becomes clear is that although we do now know that commitment mak-
ing is effective, we do not know why it is effective. More specifically, we do not
know which psychological processes mediate the effect of commitment mak-
ing on behavior. We believe that this poses an important direction for future
research on commitment and environmental behavior. Studies are needed that
include the proposed mediators to clarify how commitment exactly works. Do
the possible mediators operate in tandem, or is one most important? How can
we design interventions so that they effectively activate these constructs? Further
empirical research is clearly needed to answer these questions.
Implications for Practice
Cialdini (2001) identified four critical features of commitment making that
would increase chances of long-term behavioral follow-through. Three of these
features make it difficult for the individual to deny or reverse the initial behavior
and the fourth increases chances the commitment will be internalized. With
respect to irreversibility, Cialdini suggested that first, the commitment should
be active rather than passive, such as writing a statement or putting one’s sig-
nature on an official form; second, the commitment should be made in public
or have the potential to be publicized; and third, the commitment should be
effortful or difficult. With respect to internalization, Cialdini’s fourth feature
makes it more likely that the individual will accept responsibility for the behav-
ior: The commitment should be perceived by the individual to be voluntary or
internally motivated, and therefore indicative of one’s true desires.
Table 1 shows that, for the most part, environmental researchers followed or
systematically evaluated two of the first three recommendations—that com-
mitments be public and written. Thus, every study included a group that made
a public or written commitment—that is, a commitment that would be viewed
by the experimenters or would actually be posted in a public place. Most of the
time, the public written commitments were most effective. This conclusion is
underscored by a study that compared written public commitments with written
26 Environment and Behavior 45(1)
anonymous commitments; the anonymous commitment group recycled even
less than a no commitment, information-only group (McCaul & Kopp, 1982).
Table 1 also suggests that only one study (Bryce, Day, & Olney, 1997)
required any particular kind of effortful commitment (request to pay for bin),
and this enhanced the effect of commitment. It is likely that effort has not been
included because of ethical constraints as well as the difficulty of using high
effort commitments outside the laboratory. Overall, the studies support the
importance of making the commitment hard for participants to deny.
Second, most of the studies in Table 1 emphasized Cialdini’s (2001)
fourth point that commitments should be voluntary. Participants were
invited to participate or were asked to help the researcher, but were not
coerced, pressured, or rewarded in any way. This was not a stated goal of the
researchers, but the methodologies do suggest that experimenters were trying
to make the commitment voluntary and internally driven.
Examination of Table 1 shows that researchers went beyond Cialdini’s
(2001) recommendations and explored a variety of ways of strengthening com-
mitment effects. Many of these additions can be viewed as enhancing one or
more of the three psychological processes believed to underlie commitment
effects. Based on our review, we can now extend Cialdini’s work by adding
some more recommendations.
Use Commitment in Combination With Other Interventions. Our com-
parisons suggest that combining commitment with other factors is worth pur-
suing as a way to increase long-term change. This is consistent with calls for
holistic or multilevel interventions. It does not mean that only commitment
manipulations benefit from a combined approach, but several studies in Table 1
are particularly intriguing because of the interesting combination treatments
that researchers chose to utilize (e.g., Dickerson et al.’s [1992] “hypocrisy”;
Bryce et al.’s [1997] “high cost”; DeLeon & Fuqua’s [1995] feedback). We
encourage more research like these studies (see also Staats, Harland, &
Wilke, 2004).
Keep the Commitment Salient. Several of the studies in Table 1 support the
idea that the effect of commitment can be enhanced by increasing its salience.
Feedback, for instance, as applied in the DeLeon and Fuqua (1995) study on
recycling, not only tells people how well they are doing but also reminds them
of their commitment. Furthermore, in many cases, the presence of environmen-
tal support for the new behavior also serves as a reminder of the commitment.
The most obvious example is recycling bins provided by the experimenter,
or the presence of neighbors’ recycling bins ready for pickup. Even written
Lokhorst et al. 27
instructions that residents keep handy can be a reminder of the commitment
and the behavior. All of these physical reminders may serve to make the com-
mitment more salient and thereby set in motion more cognitive elaboration,
which in turn leads to stronger, more accessible attitudes and increased likeli-
hood of sustained behavior change.
As another example, in the study by Cobern, Porter, Leeming, and Dwyer
(1995), participants who committed to both grass recycling and talking to
their neighbors about grass recycling showed the greatest behavior change. In
this case, persuading others might have helped persuade the self and by doing
so increased the salience of the commitment.
Activate Personal Norms. Matthies et al. (2006) showed that commitment is
effective in increasing use of alternative modes of transportation for people
who have a preexisting personal norm favoring reduced automobile use. In
their study, the effect of commitment on behavior was successful primarily
for those with a preexisting norm. The researchers may have activated these
norms by administering weekly questionnaires containing a question about par-
ticipants’ personal norm toward the target behavior. This work suggests that
practitioners can take advantage of existing norms by making them salient, not
necessarily with weekly questionnaires but through for instance postcards,
reminder signs in public settings, stickers, and so on.
Activate Social Norms. The two experiments performed by Wang and
Katzev (1990) may have activated a group norm. It appeared that this activa-
tion was successful in Experiment 1, where participants who made a group
commitment recycled more than participants in the control group. How-
ever, in Experiment 2, the group commitment was less successful than the
individual commitment. We believe this might have been because of the
dynamics of this particular group. Aiming at activating a group norm could very
well be successful in a more cohesive group or one in which the cohesiveness
was turned toward supporting the requested behavior. Consistent with this,
Terry, Hogg, and White (1999) showed that group norms influenced behavior
primarily for people who strongly identified with the relevant group. These ideas
are consistent with the recommendation given by Werner (2003) that group
discussions aimed at behavior change should be held within significant social
groups to provide both descriptive and injunctive norms.
Labeling. The use of labeling to strengthen commitment was supported by
other studies. Pallak and Cummings (1976) showed a strong effect of commit-
ment when they labeled participants as “public-spirited, fuel-conserving citizens,
28 Environment and Behavior 45(1)
a possible strategy for enhancing the shift in self-concept needed for behavior
change. The study by Shippee and Gregory (1982) showed the same positive
self-labeling effect in the mild commitment condition. Other work suggests
that it may be wise to combine the commitment manipulation with labeling the
participants as “the kind of people who perform this behavior” rather than
more general traits such as “good people” (Cialdini, Eisenberg, Green, Rhoads,
& Bator, 1998).
Increasing the Specificity of the Commitment. Commitment researchers
may benefit from examining a different style of research, in which participants
decide on their own to change their behavior. Gollwitzer (1999) drew on Ajzen’s
(1991) attitude–behavior model to refine commitment making so that people
specify when, where, and how a desired behavior will occur. By getting partici-
pants to focus on the physical and social milieu in which their desired behavior
will occur, participants get physical and social cues to remind them of their
commitment, thereby increasing chances the commitment will guide behavior.
Gollwitzer (1999) interests have typically involved correlational strategies as
opposed to manipulations by experimenters and generally indicate strong cor-
relations between people making such specific commitments (or implemen-
tation intentions”) and the subsequent performance of that behavior. A
meta-analysis (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006) showed a medium to strong
effect size for the relationship between specific goal intentions and actu-
ally performing the behavior. Other research showed that there are many cir-
cumstances that can undermine this relationship, and these researchers identify
and evaluate barriers and how to overcome them (see, for example, Gollwitzer,
Sheeran, Michalski, & Siefert, 2009). The success of Gollwitzer’s approach is
something that might be of interest to environmental psychologists and
practitioners.
Make it Fun. An extensive literature suggests that it is much easier for people
to maintain adherence to a commitment if they enjoy the new behavior. In an
intriguing article titled “Once a Boring Task, Always a Boring Task?” Sansone
and her colleagues proposed that no matter how determined people were to
maintain a new behavior, if they could not figure out how to make the behav-
ior interesting, fun, or otherwise meaningful, they would stop engaging in the
behavior (Sansone, Weir, Harpster, & Morgan, 1992). Consistent with this,
Werner and Makela (1998) found that people who had maintained active
recycling for more than 2 years were more likely to have found interesting and
fun aspects to recycling (e.g., enjoying their children’s enthusiasm for recycling,
Lokhorst et al. 29
learning about the recycling process, and making noise smashing aluminum
cans). Other research shows that students who made a permanent shift to transit
were more likely to find ways of increasing their intrinsic motivation by mak-
ing the trip enjoyable (music), relaxing (private time), or productive (studying,
reading; Brown et al., 2003). Thus, simply finding the fun may be an impor-
tant addition to the cognitive and moral reasons for maintaining behaviors to
which one has committed.
Conclusion
The existing literature in the domain of environmental psychology is generally
highly positive about commitment making (e.g., De Young, 1993; Dwyer,
Leeming, Cobern, Porter, & Jackson, 1993). Often it is presented as one of
the most promising techniques to promote behavior change for both short- and
long-term programs. In light of this positive and optimistic view, the current
review may offer a more nuanced perspective. Yes, commitment making is
effective, especially when Cialdini’s (2001) recommendations are followed,
and more so when combined with other techniques. However, based on the
existing research, we were not able to show how commitment is effective in
altering environmental behaviors—that is, we do not know what mediates the
effect.
If we want commitment making to reach its full potential, it is crucial that
we learn why and how commitment is effective. Few studies provided insights
about the particular psychological mechanisms activated by commitment;
however, these mechanisms can be studied and have been addressed in nonen-
vironmental research. From the present group of studies, it is hard to draw con-
clusions about the underlying psychological processes; but interventions that
play on norms and self-concepts seem to yield the most robust findings.
Different insights derived from fundamental research are seemingly not
very well integrated in the environmental field. We suggest that future commit-
ment research should include the different possible mediators we described, and
test which of them is most effective in producing behavior change or whether
they operate in tandem. Then, with the knowledge from fundamental research,
commitment manipulations can be improved to specifically tap into these psy-
chological processes. At the same time, applied studies can then serve to test
the power of these respective processes in actual intervention research. A better
understanding of the way commitment works will result in more successful
tools that will help both researchers and professionals to stimulate environ-
mentally significant behaviors.
30 Environment and Behavior 45(1)
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article:
This research was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
(NWO), grant number 474-03-385.
Notes
1. We had hoped to use Cialdini’s (2001) criteria to identify weak and strong com-
mitments, but experimenters used a variety of manipulations and it was often difficult
to determine whether the commitment was weak or strong according to Cialdini’s
criteria.
2. We chose to calculate r values instead of d values as both nominal and scale data
were used and standard deviations were not always provided for the scale data.
3. Note that this process differs from Gollwitzer, Sheeran, Michalsky, and Seifert’s
(2009) finding that when others become aware of an individual’s self-goal, this
reduces actual behavior, in theory because others’ awareness substitutes for actual
accomplishment; clearly further research is needed to clarify these two perspectives.
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Bios
Anne Marike Lokhorst is a social psychologist working at the communication science
department of Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Her research interests include
social influence, environmental decision making, and norms.
Carol Werner is a professor at the psychology department of the University of Utah.
Her research interests include environmentally significant behaviors and their psycho-
logical underpinnings.
Henk Staats is an assistant professor at the social and organizational psychology
department of Leiden University. He is interested in interventions aimed at changing
environmental behaviors and in the restorative functions of nature.
Eric van Dijk is a full professor in social psychology at Leiden University. His research
interests include social dilemmas, bargaining, and economic psychology.
Jeff L. Gale was a graduate student in the Social Psychology program at the
University of Utah. He is currently working towards becoming a Physical Therapist
and plans to use his knowledge to benefit his future patients.
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Purpose Grounded on the collected data and basic view of the belief-action-outcome, the current study aims to investigate the mediating role of environmental commitment (EC) in the relationship between environmental awareness (EA) and three outcomes, namely, pro-environmental behavior (PEB), willingness to sacrifice for the environment (WSE) and nongreen behaviors (NGB). Design/methodology/approach Data was gathered from 509 restaurant employees and 96 supervisors in two different waves through a 10-day time lag in India. Structural equation modeling was used to understand the relationships using LISREL 8.30. Findings This study verified that employees’ EA is significantly related to EC. Moreover, according to the results, employees’ EC is positively related to PEB and WSE while it is negatively related to NGB. The results similarly attested to the mediation impact of EC in the relationship between EA and the outcomes. Research limitations/implications Organizations’ employment of green and eco-friendly practices can make employees more familiar with environmental concepts and practices. The current study encourages restaurant managers to regularly invest and be involved in developing relevant environmental training, which can improve employees’ knowledge and awareness of environmental matters. Originality/value By highlighting overlooked concerns in the restaurant and service literature, the current study makes significant contributions in the context of the restaurant industry. To date, there is not a single indication of any study that analyzes the impact of EA on employee EC and its potential links to other employee outcomes.
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For us, altruism refers to self-sacrificial acts intended to benefit others regardless of material or social outcomes for the actor. Crucial to this definition is an emphasis on the actor’s motivation: An act is altruistic only to the extent that it is motivated by concern for the welfare of others. In other words, altruistic behavior is motivated by the desire to affirm one’s own moral values (Schwartz & Howard, 1981). The more general notion of prosocial behavior points to the outcomes of action rather than to the intentions that underlie action (Wispe, 1972). Prosocial behavior usually entails a mixture of altruistic and other types of motivation. An adult may stop children who are fighting, for instance, both because of her own value-based concern for their welfare and because this act may elicit social approval and enhance her sense of competence.
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Publisher Summary Individuals come to “know” their own attitudes, emotions, and other internal states partially by inferring them from observations of their own overt behavior and/ or the circumstances in which this behavior occurs. Thus, to the extent that internal cues are weak, ambiguous, or uninterpretable, the individual is functionally in the same position as an outside observer, an observer who must necessarily rely upon those same external cues to infer the individual's inner states. This chapter traces the conceptual antecedents and empirical consequences of these propositions, attempts to place the theory in a slightly enlarged frame of reference, and clarifies just what phenomena the theory can and cannot account for in the rapidly growing experimental literature of self-attribution phenomena. Several experiments and paradigms from the cognitive dissonance literature are amenable to self-perception interpretations. But precisely because such experiments are subject to alternative interpretations, they cannot be used as unequivocal evidence for self-perception theory. The reinterpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena and other self-perception phenomena have been discussed. The chapter highlights some differences between self-perception and interpersonal perception and shift of paradigm in social psychology. It discusses some unsolved problems, such as the conceptual status of noncognitive response classes and the strategy of functional analysis.
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