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The Psychology of Proenvironmental Support: In Search of Global Solutions for a Global Problem

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The Psychology of Proenvironmental Support: In Search of Global Solutions for a Global Problem

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Abstract

We review research that provides a sociocultural perspective on proenvironmental support. Despite the increasing volume of psychological research on proenvironmental action, there has been a relative dearth of consideration of sociocultural contexts, which poses critical theoretical and practical limitations to understanding and fostering proenvironmental actions across diverse populations. The sociocultural perspective posits that the primary motives driving action are context dependent. Building on this perspective, our research examines significant divergence in key determinants of proenvironmental support, focusing on several sociocultural variables, including national culture (individualism-collectivism), socioeconomic status, and religion. This program of research shows that personal environmental beliefs more directly lead to proenvironmental support in sociocultural contexts that prioritize personal motives over social motives. In contrast, in contexts that prioritize social motives, social influence becomes a more important predictor of proenvironmental support. Solving environmental challenges requires leveraging psychological diversity to motivate people across the globe.

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... From a theoretical standpoint, the literature suggests three major assumptions that can explain people's motivation to engage in pro-environmental behaviors: that such behaviors are performed to benefit oneself (i.e., assumption of egoism), to benefit unfamiliar others (i.e., assumption of altruism), or for the act in itself but not for oneself nor anyone else (i.e., assumption of a moral principle) (e.g., Hardin, 1977;Kahneman and Knetsch, 1992;Batson, 1994;Clark et al., 2003;Hong, 2006;Eom et al., 2019). ...
... Meanwhile, research has also verified that pro-environmental behaviors have inherent characteristics of altruism (Clark et al., 2003;Griskevicius et al., 2010;Bolderdijk et al., 2013) and proenvironmental principles such as concern for the environment (Dunlap et al., 2000;Hong, 2006;Halkos and Matsiori, 2017;Eom et al., 2019). Thus, self-interested individuals will behave in pro-environmental ways when their behavior benefits them personally but not when the benefit is exclusively environmental. ...
... Altruism may also be a universal virtue across all societies (Johnson et al., 1989;Simon, 1990;Sober and Wilson, 1998;Madsen et al., 2007;Eom et al., 2019). For instance, in Western thought, Hume (1896Hume ( , 1902 and Smith (1759) discussed the possibility of human action based on unselfish motives, or what they termed benevolence. ...
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To investigate the relationships between altruism, environmental concerns, and ordinary people's pro-environmental behaviors that go beyond self-interested NIMBY-ism, we examined measurements of altruism and environmental concerns in a Chinese context and developed a scale that measured people's pro-environmental behaviors at the individual, organizational, and policy level. We then conducted a tailor-made, face-to-face survey ( N = 603) and found, first, that old age, gender (being a woman), party affiliation, and education level are positively associated with pro-environmental behaviors at the individual, organizational, and policy levels. We next found that human domination worldviews are negatively associated with individual- and organizational-level pro-environmental behaviors and that eco-centric worldviews are positively associated with individual-level pro-environmental behaviors. Third, we found that altruistic behaviors (prosocial behaviors and/or donations) are positively associated with pro-environmental behaviors. In short, awareness of the ecological crisis and altruism can stimulate people's pro-environmental behaviors in China. Meanwhile, it is doubtful that people care more for the environment after their living standards have improved, because socioeconomic status indicators are not statistically significant for individual-level pro-environmental behaviors.
... Extending these works and answering calls for more empirical research to enhance cross-cultural understanding of environmentally responsible actions (Eom, Papadakis, Sherman, & Kim, 2019;Tam et al., 2021;Tam & Milfont, 2020), the current research examined whether the strength of associations between personal or group values and environmental engagements differs between two cultures (Singapore, the U. S.) and whether these differences might be explained by the different extents that people from these cultures endorse a collectivistic orientation (Hofstede, 1980). We argue that the influence of perceived group values would be more pronounced in collectivistic cultures. ...
... Being one of the early attempts to employ a cross-cultural approach to investigate the roles of personal values and perceived group values on pro-environmentalism, the study recruited community samples from only two cultures (the U.S., Singapore). Notwithstanding this caveat, we contend that the current research advances the agenda for cross-cultural environmental psychology (Eom et al., 2019;Tam et al., 2021;Tam & Milfont, 2020). Our findings demonstrate how culture can shape the roles of personal values and perceived group values in different domains of environmental engagement via individuals' collectivistic orientation. ...
Article
Despite extensive works examining the influence of personal values on environmental engagements, scarce research has examined the influence of group values that are perceived as important in the society. To address this lacuna and recent calls for more cross-cultural environmental research, we investigated whether and how culture, via collectivistic orientation, influences the roles of personal values and perceived group values, namely egoistic and biospheric values, in motivating environmental engagements in a Western (the U.S.; N = 469) and an Asian (Singapore; N = 410) country. To highlight a few findings, the study showed that personal values and perceived group values differentially predicted environmental engagements. Counter to our hypotheses, biospheric group values discouraged environmental volunteerism and were not related to other environmental engagement measures. Interestingly, culturally shaped collectivistic orientation attenuated biospheric group values' negative relationship and strengthened egoistic group values’ positive relationship with public behavioral intentions. Collectivistic orientation also strengthened the positive influence of personal egoistic values, but not personal biospheric values, on public behavioral intentions and policy support. We discuss how these findings advance knowledge regarding the ways in which personal and perceived group values, coupled with culturally motivated collectivistic orientation, would encourage pro-environmental actions.
... Undoubtedly, environmental problems, for example, global warming, resource shortages, air pollution, climate change, and reduction in biodiversity have obtained worldwide attention. Some researchers have argued that many problems are caused by human behavior [1,2]. Therefore, environmental decisions are not just choices of personal lifestyle; they are more related to moral action [3,4]. ...
... The result indicated that dispositional benign envy is positively associated with pro-environmental behavior, while dispositional malicious envy showed a negative correlation with pro-environmental behavior and a positive correlation with environmentally harmful behavior. Previous studies showed that self-control acts as a mediator of the association between negative emotion and pro-environmental behavior [2,11], which is consistent with the result of Study 2. In other words, people who often experience malicious envy would contribute to decreased self-control, thus steering more environmentally harmful behavior [42,56]. ...
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Emotions have strong impacts on decision making, yet research on the association between social interpersonal emotion and environmental decisions is limited. The present study uses experimental manipulation and cross-sectional investigation to examine how envy state and personality trait envy influence environmental actions. In Study 1, participants were manipulated to elicit benign and malicious envy, and it was found that benign envy acts as an antecedent of pro-environmental behavior, while malicious envy could contribute to behavior harmful to the environment. Study 2 replicated the results of Study 1 and examined the mediator of self-control through a correlational study. Consequently, people who are high in malicious envy tend to engage in more environmentally harmful activities rather than living a sustainable life, while dispositional benign envy could significantly predict pro-environmental behavior. Moreover, the link between dispositional malicious envy and environmental behavior can be explained by trait self-control, while the mediating effect was silent in dispositional benign envy. The findings shed new light on the impact of social interpersonal emotion on making environmental decisions and its related psychological mechanisms.
... Recent research has revealed that certain sociocultural factors, such as national culture and socioeconomic status, moderate this link (e.g., Eom et al., 2016Eom et al., , 2018Tam & Chan, 2017). Specifically, personally held beliefs about environmental problems are less strongly associated with pro-environmental decision-making and behavior when sociocultural contexts do not foster direct expression of personal beliefs, such as among those in collectivistic cultures or with lower socioeconomic status (Eom et al., 2019). The current research advances this literature on the sociocultural moderators of the link between environmental beliefs and pro-environmental support by focusing on religion. ...
... Sociocultural factors, such as religion, can operate as an important force in shaping psychological processes related to environmental behavior. Despite the increasing attention to the role of sociocultural factors (e.g.,Milfont & Schultz, 2016;Tam & Chan, 2017), they have not been fully integrated into the current understanding of the psychology of environmental action (seeClayton et al., 2016;Eom et al., 2019; Pearson et al., 2016 for discussions). How sociocultural factors interact with other key psychological variables related to environmental behavior, such as environmental beliefs and social norms, would be a fruitful direction for theoretical advancement in the areas of environmental psychology, cultural psychology, and social psychology. ...
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The current research examines differences in what motivates environmentally sustainable behavior between more and less religious people in the United States. We found that religiosity moderates the extent to which environmental beliefs predict pro-environmental support. Specifically, environmental beliefs predicted pro-environmental support less strongly among more religious people than less religious people (Studies 1 and 2). Using a correlational (Study 2) and an experimental (Study 3) design, we further found that one particular aspect of religiosity—believing in a controlling god—reduced the importance of personally held environmental beliefs in shaping one’s support for pro-environmental actions. Our findings suggest that motivation to act based on personal beliefs may be attenuated among people who are religious because they believe in an external source of control. Sociocultural factors, such as religion, shape the psychological underpinnings of social actions, and the present research underscores the importance of understanding psychological diversity in promoting support toward environmental sustainability.
... Differing from most of the previous studies which were conducted majorly in Western countries (Henrich et al. 2010), this is the first manipulation experiment testing the emotional impact of CCE on Chinese adolescents. Several studies indicated significant differences in concern-action correlation existed between the West and the East (Nangyeon 2016;Eom et al. 2016Eom et al. , 2019. However, it is not clearly understood if the negative impact on mitigation behavior by fear is a distinct feature for children in Eastern countries, which requires further investigation. ...
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Emotion has been recognized as a significant factor affecting climate engagement behavior. However, empirical experiments testing emotions influencing behavioral changes, climate change education (CCE) in particular, are rare. In this study, we conducted a 2-week CCE program with the support of video clips to induce emotions such as fear and/or hope through the manipulated treatments and were then compared between emotion plus lecture group and lecture-only group for adolescents to explore how emotions affect self-reported mitigation behavior toward climate change. The study involved 1730 students from nine middle schools in three coastal cities (Xiamen, Shenzhen, and Ningbo) in China. The results demonstrated that emotional video clips were the successful stimulus for target emotions. There was a significant improvement in both knowledge-gaining and self-reported mitigation behavior in the lecture-only group, and climate change concern and involvement mediated the effect on mitigation behavior. Compared to the lecture-only group, the hope treatment group showed decreased knowledge gain but no significant effect on self-reported mitigation behavior. In contrast, emotion significantly reduced students’ self-reported mitigation behavior in the fear treatment group, which was mostly pinpointed to the behavioral change of emission reduction activities. Thus, the study highlighted the importance of knowledge with appropriate emotions in adolescents to safeguard educational outcomes.
... Lastly, the current research addresses the need for more research on how cultural factors shape the psychology of environmental action (see Clayton et al., 2016;Eom et al., 2019;Pearson et al., 2016 for relevant discussions). Much of the existing research has focused on identifying relatively proximal psychological factors, such as attitudes, beliefs, and emotions regarding environmental problems, to explain environmental behavior. ...
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Religion exerts significant influence on how individuals respond to social issues. The present research investigates the implications of religious beliefs on emotions and behaviors regarding environmental issues. In three studies conducted with Christians in the U.S. (N = 1970), we test the model in which stewardship belief and belief in a controlling god are oppositely (i.e., positively for stewardship belief and negatively for belief in a controlling god) associated with environmental guilt, which in turn leads to greater pro-environmental support. We do so by employing both correlational (Studies 1 and 2) and experimental data (Study 3) with diverse measures of pro-environmental support, such as behavioral commitment for environmental organizations (Study 1), policy support (Studies 2 and 3), and financial donation (Study 3). Religion is a system including various beliefs that may have different implications on environmental action. Given the vast number of the religious across the world, understanding this complexity is important to address current global environmental challenges.
... Additionally, environmental concerns may contribute to people's perceived individual risks associated with environmental problems, which in turn contribute to their motivation to perform environmentally friendly actions. In another aspect, many scholars believe that participation in PEBs can be based on moral judgement [30,72]. When people are concerned about the environmental impacts caused by their own practices, they might feel guilt for destroying the environment [73]. ...
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Abstract: It is essential to understand the determinants of university students’ decisions to engage in sustainable energy behaviors, as this understanding has implications for the development of communication and education strategies to promote sustainable energy behaviors. The present study aims to investigate the impacts of affective and cognitive factors on sustainable energy be-haviors among university students. It will explore the affective factors of self-responsibility and social norms and the cognitive factors of environmental concerns, perceived self-efficacy, perceived self-benefits, and action knowledge about sustainable energy behaviors. A simple random technique was used to select participants from undergraduate students at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) in Bangkok, Thailand. Questionnaire surveys were completed by 426 participants in May and June 2020. Multiple regression analyses were used to test the ability of affective and cognitive variables to predict university students’ participation in sustainable energy behaviors. The results revealed that participation in sustainable energy behaviors was significantly impacted by the perceived benefit of sustainable energy behaviors, students’ concerns about climate change, perceived self-efficacy, and social norms; self-responsibility and action knowledge had no significant impact. These findings indicate that communication that focuses on climate change and approaches that enhance students’ self-efficacy and the perceived benefits of sustainable energy behaviors could help promote such behaviors among university students. The sustainable energy behaviors of other social groups, including students’ family members and colleagues and the general public, are also influential as they can motivate students to change their behavior.
... Attitude accessibility, then, may be an important variable to consider in future examinations of the role of vulnerability in the link between thoughts and actions-it may be that when threat is extremely high, people's attitudes toward outgroups are less accessible and, potentially, that their feelings of vulnerability become more accessible. The present research adds vulnerability to a list of potential moderators of the link between beliefs and actions, such as cultural values, religiosity, and SES (Eom et al., 2019). ...
Article
The widespread threat of contagious disease disrupts not only everyday life but also psychological experience. Building on findings regarding xenophobic responses to contagious diseases, this research investigates how perceived vulnerability to a disease moderates the psychological link between people’s xenophobic thoughts and support for ingroup-protective actions. Three datasets collected during the time of Ebola ( N = 867) and COVID-19 ( Ns = 992 and 926) measured perceived disease risk, group-serving biases (i.e., xenophobic thoughts), and support for restrictive travel policies (i.e., ingroup-protective actions). Using correlational and quasi-experimental analyses, results indicated that for people who perceive greater disease risk, the association between group-serving bias and restrictive policy support is weakened. This weakened association occurred because people who felt more vulnerable to these diseases increased support for ingroup-protective actions more strongly than xenophobic thoughts. This research underscores the importance of understanding the impact of threats on psychological processes beyond the impact on psychological outcomes.
... Taken together, these two lines of research suggest that both individualism-collectivism and SES can systematically orient people toward either their individual beliefs or perceived norms in driving action (Eom et al., 2019). The question we address in this study is how these two factors exert their influence jointly on the process of linking environmental beliefs, perceived norms, and proenvironmental action. ...
Article
The present research investigates how the cultural value of collectivism interacts with socioeconomic status (SES) to influence the basis of action. Using a U.S. national sample ( N = 2,538), the research examines how these sociocultural factors jointly moderate the strength of two precursors of environmental support: beliefs about climate change and perceived descriptive norms. SES and collectivism interacted with climate change beliefs such that beliefs predicted environmental support (i.e., proenvironmental behaviors and policy support) more strongly for those who were high in SES and low in collectivism than for all other groups. This interaction was explained, in part, by sense of control. For descriptive norms, SES and collectivism did not interact but rather norms predicted action most strongly for those high in collectivism and high in SES. These findings demonstrate the theoretical and applied importance of examining multiple sociocultural characteristics together to understand the factors that drive action.
... One of the most commonly applied behavioural theories in the field of environmental psychology is Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991(Ajzen, , 1985 by Icek Ajzen (Eom et al., 2019). The TPB is an extension of the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975). ...
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Resource-optimization platforms appear as a valid option to more sustainable modes of consumption. The success of these platforms mostly depends on the capability to comprehend the potential users’ motives for engagement. We developed and tested a conceptual model based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) to investigate the relative significance of consumer motives for and against using a peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing platform. Qualitative interviews of an elicitation study (n=7) followed a quantitative survey (n=325) with potential users. The size of the demand for accessing specific products and services and the type of transaction mode preferred were also investigated. Attitude towards using a P2P sharing platform is the strongest predictor of behavioural intention among the TPB constructs. Ecological sustainability, sense of belonging, trust in other users, and familiarity are the most critical factors determining the attitude towards using the potential platform; process risk concerns were identified as the main hinder. There were more providers than takers to all likely items enquired, and accommodation and car-sharing had the most significant asymmetric ratios remarkably. Services in general and study materials were the items with the highest potential demand and supply. The preferred mode of exchange for the platform is a free system which includes donation and second-hand sales, and transfer of points or money. This study contributes to a better understanding of consumer motivations and desires to engage in sharing resources for sustainability transformations.
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Research on sustainability behaviors has been based on the assumption that increasing personal concerns about the environment will increase proenvironmental action. We tested whether this assumption is more applicable to individualistic cultures than to collectivistic cultures. In Study 1, we compared 47 countries (N = 57,268) and found that they varied considerably in the degree to which environmental concern predicted support for proenvironmental action. National-level individualism explained the between-nation variability above and beyond the effects of other cultural values and independently of person-level individualism. In Study 2, we compared individualistic and collectivistic nations (United States vs. Japan; N = 251) and found culture-specific predictors of proenvironmental behavior. Environmental concern predicted environmentally friendly consumer choice among European Americans but not Japanese. For Japanese participants, perceived norms about environmental behavior predicted proenvironmental decision making. Facilitating sustainability across nations requires an understanding of how culture determines which psychological factors drive human action.
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The way individuals relate to the natural environment is culturally patterned. In this article we review and discuss cross-cultural differences and similarities in a number of important domains including environmental concern, environmental risk perception, and pro-environmental behaviour. Three possible psychological universals (future thinking, self-transcendent orientation, and psychological distance) in association with pro-environmental attitudes and behaviour are proposed, and cultural variations are also discussed. We highlight evidence—including new analyses of cross-cultural data—indicating that an overwhelming majority of the world's population supports environmental protection, and identifies with the value of “looking after the environment.”
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Environmental challenges, though daunting, present an important area for psychologists to apply their knowledge. Psychological theories, research methods, and interventions are essential for examining the questions about human impacts, tendencies, and capacities that are integral to constructing effective responses to these challenges. Although a great deal of relevant research has been done, there is scope for psychologists to be more extensively involved. Following a brief review of existing research, we outline some important new directions. We also highlight 2 key divergences, arguing that psychological research needs to expand beyond a traditional, theory-based and decontextualized approach to environmental issues to incorporate a contextualized or "place-based" approach and a willingness to collaborate in interdisciplinary research teams that focus on specific environmental problems. Suggestions for promoting such interdisciplinary collaborations are reviewed. We encourage psychologists to expand their engagement with important environmental issues through multiple research approaches in order to further their understanding of human behavior, contributions to human wellbeing, and relevance to other disciplines and to society. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
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Religion affects psychological processes in many important ways and is the subject of increasing attention on the part of psychologists. I discuss four reasons why religion is important, including that religion is a central foundation for moral judgment (e.g., Protestants but not Jews find lustful thoughts to be morally suspect) and that religion strongly affects intergroup relations (e.g., theology regarding forgiveness affects intergroup relations). I then propose that religion broadly shapes self-construal (e.g., Protestants tend toward independent selves) and that the myriad ways in which religion shapes individuals’ psychologies is a complex issue that can be instructive in terms of how culture gets inside people’s heads.
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We propose that people protect the belief in a controlled, nonrandom world by imbuing their social, physical, and metaphysical environments with order and structure when their sense of personal control is threatened. We demonstrate that when personal control is threatened, people can preserve a sense of order by (a) perceiving patterns in noise or adhering to superstitions and conspiracies, (b) defending the legitimacy of the sociopolitical institutions that offer control, or (c) believing in an interventionist God. We also present evidence that these processes of compensatory control help people cope with the anxiety and discomfort that lacking personal control fuels, that it is lack of personal control specifically and not general threat or negativity that drives these processes, and that these various forms of compensatory control are ultimately substitutable for one another. Our model of compensatory control offers insight into a wide variety of phenomena, from prejudice to the idiosyncratic rituals of professional athletes to societal rituals around weddings, graduations, and funerals.
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Recent research on the connection between religion and environmental concern and activism has led to divergent conclusions, with some studies finding a negative effect of religious factors, and others finding no influence or a positive effect. Using a conceptual apparatus of structuration theory, we explain how these divergent findings might be reconciled. We examine data from the 1993 General Social Survey to elaborate how religious affiliation, participation, and beliefs influence environmental concern and private and political environmental activism. Estimates from structural equation models are presented to show the sometimes competing direct and indirect effects of religious affiliation, participation, and beliefs on environmental concern and private and political environmental action.
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Psychology can make a significant contribution to limiting the magnitude of climate change by improving understanding of human behaviors that drive climate change and human reactions to climate-related technologies and policies, and by turning that understanding into effective interventions. This article develops a framework for psychological contributions, summarizes what psychology has learned, and sets out an agenda for making additional contributions. It emphasizes that the greatest potential for contributions from psychology comes not from direct application of psychological concepts but from integrating psychological knowledge and methods with knowledge from other fields of science and technology.
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Social psychologists have often followed other scientists in treating religiosity primarily as a set of beliefs held by individuals. But, beliefs are only one facet of this complex and multidimensional construct. The authors argue that social psychology can best contribute to scholarship on religion by being relentlessly social. They begin with a social-functionalist approach in which beliefs, rituals, and other aspects of religious practice are best understood as means of creating a moral community. They discuss the ways that religion is intertwined with five moral foundations, in particular the group-focused "binding" foundations of Ingroup/loyalty, Authority/respect, Purity/sanctity. The authors use this theoretical perspective to address three mysteries about religiosity, including why religious people are happier, why they are more charitable, and why most people in the world are religious.
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Using educational attainment to indicate socioeconomic status, the authors examined models of agency and effects of choice among European American adults of different educational backgrounds in 3 studies. Whereas college-educated (BA) participants and their preferred cultural products (i.e., rock music lyrics) emphasized expressing uniqueness, controlling environments, and influencing others, less educated (HS) participants and their preferred cultural products (i.e., country music lyrics) emphasized maintaining integrity, adjusting selves, and resisting influence. Reflecting these models of agency, HS and BA participants differently responded to choice in dissonance and reactance paradigms: BA participants liked chosen objects more than unchosen objects, but choice did not affect HS participants' preferences. Results suggest that HS and BA models of agency qualitatively differ, despite overlap between HS and BA worlds.
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Despite a long tradition of effectiveness in laboratory tests, normative messages have had mixed success in changing behavior in field contexts, with some studies showing boomerang effects. To test a theoretical account of this inconsistency, we conducted a field experiment in which normative messages were used to promote household energy conservation. As predicted, a descriptive normative message detailing average neighborhood usage produced either desirable energy savings or the undesirable boomerang effect, depending on whether households were already consuming at a low or high rate. Also as predicted, adding an injunctive message (conveying social approval or disapproval) eliminated the boomerang effect. The results offer an explanation for the mixed success of persuasive appeals based on social norms and suggest how such appeals should be properly crafted.
Culture and motivation
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Fear of Ebola: The influence of collectivism on xenophobic threat responses
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Kim, H. S., Sherman, D. K., & Updegraff, J. A. (2016). Fear of Ebola: The influence of collectivism on xenophobic threat responses. Psychological Science, 27, 935-944. doi:10.1177/095679761664259
What the world thinks about climate change in 7 charts
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