How Psychology Can Help Save the Environment

The psychology field may not be the first sector that comes to mind when thinking about how different professionals are working together to preserve the planet. However, what you’re about to read may surprise you. It discusses how psychologists are relying on people’s emotions and behaviors to inspire climate-changing choices.

Public Awareness Could Keep Our Oceans Cleaner

A recent study organized by psychological scientists from the University of Plymouth and the University of Surrey points to the fact that when people gain a greater understanding of things that are harming the planet, they help spur shifts in public policies. For example, public outrage led to more individuals depending on reusable bags and no longer purchasing cosmetics with microbeads.

The researchers concluded that studying behavioral sciences to learn what drives human actions could keep our oceans cleaner. One suggestion they gave is by using visible materials to convey what happens when plastic packages end up in oceans.

Many people don’t connect the two things because they usually handle those containers on land and don’t throw them into the water. Scientists said something similar to the warnings used on cigarette packages might be effective, but scare tactics aren’t the only solution. A successful campaign would be one that makes people realize the severity of the problem and convinces them they can help solve it.

Messaging Makes a Difference

In another effort to explore human behavioral influences as they relate to the environment, the American Psychological Association published research involving the messages printed on hotel room cards that urged people to reuse their towels and save energy. Researchers tested five messages and found that the one proposed that conserving resources is a social norm performed best.

Messages that discussed how saving energy helps future generations also got good reactions. What didn’t work well? A card that asked guests to recycle their towels for the hotel’s benefits.

Based on the results of that experiment and others, psychologists know even slight alterations in wording make big differences. That reality is familiar to other professionals who evaluate how people behave and why — such as the marketing industry. But now, there is a greater push towards being mindful of messaging for eco-friendly reasons.

Focusing on Nnorms Helps Predict Behavior

As you just learned, people were most likely to use their hotel towels more than once when they had the perception other members of society were doing the same. That finding is one of the primary reasons why scientists say that one of the most effective ways to identify methods of spurring people to pitch in for the planet’s sake is to be aware of social norms.

They talk about injunctive norms, which indicate most people approve or disapprove of things. Descriptive norms are also often mentioned, and those suggest the majority of individuals actually take steps towards making a difference. The ideal result happens when people are under the impression their peers approve of positive actions and are actively engaging in them.

Opportunities to Take Consistent Action Get Results

Ask a group of people for their thoughts on climate change, and you’ll likely get a wide variety of answers. Although some individuals see it as an urgent issue are doing practical things to improve the situation, others think the problem is too big for them to influence and they get overwhelmed.

Experts say one of the effective ways to get people to act on climate change is to assert that it’s possible for everyday people to continually engage in activities that cause meaningful results. That conclusion is something useful that could determine the outcomes of future environmental campaigns.

These examples show how studying how people behave could impact our environment. The effectiveness could be even more powerful when psychologists refer to big data, too.

Photo by Meiying Ng on Unsplash


Bobbi Peterson
Bobbi Peterson
Bobbi Peterson ia a freelance writer, green living advocate, and environmentalist.

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