Some Challenges in Motivating Proenvironmental Behaviors




                                   Dawn Drake

              ...
2



                                   Abstract

This article considers fear avoidance, reactance theory, and alienation ...
3

    Some Challenges in Motivating Proenvironmental Behaviors

      Scientists and environmental activists have been is...
4

argue over how to distribute the “rights” to continue doing damage so that

everyone can maintain—or in the case of dev...
5

      Messages about global warming clearly describe a serious threat that

is personally relevant because it will affe...
6

      So it seems that fear-arousing messages that project a future based on

unmoderated global warming and urge signi...
7

generated “more resistance to subsequent counterpropaganda [emphasis

added] and . . . perhaps a greater degree of beha...
8

      behaviour, the primary challenge to continuing these initial efforts is
      sustaining the behaviour in the fac...
9

reliant on nature for their daily survival. They respected its power and even

honored it as “mother” (e.g., Mother Ear...
10

play in the dirt, and jump in puddles . . . if their parents aren’t too worried

about dirty clothes. Do children even...
11

      Researchers Elizabeth Nisbet, John Zelenski, and Steven Murphy

(2009), of Carleton University, developed and te...
12

182). Both interest and emotional affinity were facilitated by spending time

in nature, especially when the experienc...
13

Decision

      When a loving relationship with nature develops, we become more

aware of the damage being done, there...
14

take in the enormity, complexity, and advanced stage of environmental

damage and global warming. Some will turn away,...
15

change in the face of overwhelming resistance: proof of the power and

potential of focused actions fired by passionat...
16

to save the world. There is a popular metaphysical maxim that states,

“Energy flows where attention goes,” and anothe...
17

environmental course. Striving from that place in our hearts, working

together, we could bring a future we love into ...
18

                                     References


Hwang, A., Khatri, N., & Srinivas, E. (2005). Organizational charism...
19

Ruiter, R., Abraham, C., & Kok, G. (2001). Scary warnings and rational
      precautions: A review of the psychology o...
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Some Challenges in Motivating Pro-environmental Behaviors

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This article considers fear avoidance, reactance theory, and alienation from nature as reasons why warnings about environmental damage and global warming fail to produce significant changes in individual behaviors. Behavioral decision-making stages identified by L. Pelletier and E. Sharp (2008) are associated with interest in nature, emotional affinity (love) for nature, message design theory, visionary charismatic leadership, and manifestation based on energetic investment as factors that support adoption of proenvironmental attitudes and behaviors. Suggestions are made about what could help inspire proenvironmental behavior.

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Some Challenges in Motivating Pro-environmental Behaviors

  1. 1. Some Challenges in Motivating Proenvironmental Behaviors Dawn Drake 10/16/09 Written for Course Studies Institute of Transpersonal Psychology © 2009, Dawn Drake
  2. 2. 2 Abstract This article considers fear avoidance, reactance theory, and alienation from nature as reasons why warnings about environmental damage and global warming fail to produce significant changes in individual behaviors. Behavioral decision-making stages identified by L. Pelletier and E. Sharp (2008) are associated with interest in nature, emotional affinity (love) for nature, message design theory, visionary charismatic leadership, and manifestation based on energetic investment as factors that support adoption of proenvironmental attitudes and behaviors. Suggestions are made about what could help inspire proenvironmental behavior. © 2009, Dawn Drake
  3. 3. 3 Some Challenges in Motivating Proenvironmental Behaviors Scientists and environmental activists have been issuing increasingly urgent warnings over the past several decades, telling us that humans have been causing sufficient environmental damage to threaten not only the survival of other species, but our own, as well. Now, they are telling us that we have already done so much damage that we cannot avoid the consequences; the best we can hope to do is reduce the impact and distribute the pain equitably (e.g., see Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009). Only by acting quickly and decisively can we minimize the projected global catastrophes including (but not limited to) economic meltdowns, food and water shortages, heat-related health problems, environmental refugees as people are driven from their land by rising sea levels, and savagely destructive storms. They warn that achieving success will require massive changes in local, national, and global economic priorities and lifestyles. The image of the future before us is so terrible that it seems any sane individual would do everything possible to halt his or her actions that contribute to the problems, and demand that businesses and governments do the same. Despite the dire warnings and urgent calls for remedial action, environmental damage and global warming continue to escalate. Instead of taking action, we argue over whether the problems that threaten the very survival of the human species—and innocent by-stander species, as well—are our doing or whether the changes are simply naturally occurring cycles. We © 2009, Dawn Drake
  4. 4. 4 argue over how to distribute the “rights” to continue doing damage so that everyone can maintain—or in the case of developing countries, achieve—the acquisitive, materialistic lifestyle that modern Western cultures embrace. We argue, defend, and delay . . . and the changes we need to make are not made. Most of us continue our lives as if we don’t hear the warnings. Businesses, politicians, the media, and sometimes our friends, assure us that technology will find an answer, so we should support the economy by continuing our current expansionist, consumption-driven lifestyles and sleep easy at night. All the while, we see the evidence in the shifting and increasingly severe weather patterns that presage times to come. Why don’t the messages work? Why don’t we take greater action as individuals, as a nation, and as a world, to try to change our apparent destination? Fear and Reactance A possible answer is that the fear-based messages that we hear with increasing frequency and urgency are predictably counterproductive; rather than inspiring the desired actions, they often thwart motivation to respond to a threat. Research over the past several decades (Janis, I., and Feshbach, S., 1953; Pelletier, L., and Sharp, E., 2008; Rogers, 1975; Ruiter, R., Abraham, C., and Kok, G., 2001; Umeh, K., 2004) has shown that fear-based messages are often ineffective in producing behavioral change, especially when the recipient decides the threat is a) not personally relevant, b) unlikely to happen, or c) unavoidable. © 2009, Dawn Drake
  5. 5. 5 Messages about global warming clearly describe a serious threat that is personally relevant because it will affect the lives of everyone on the planet. Given the changing weather patterns and intensifying storms, the majority of the global population seems to accept that global warming is already happening and will continue to intensify. These factors seem to favor the likelihood of behavioral changes. It is the final consideration that may inhibit action: is the problem unavoidable? By presenting “challenges perceived to be beyond the reach of the individuals” (Pelletier & Sharp, 2008, p. 211), the fear-based messages may create a sense of futility for many people that undermines their motivation to change. Instead, the sense of futility could produce a fear-avoidance response that results in the individual ignoring the message, or even denying the reality of global warming. Another explanation may be found in reactance theory. Researchers Y. Zhang and R. Buda (1999) explain, Reactance theory holds that when individuals perceive their freedom to engage or not engage in some behavior as threatened or eliminated, they may experience reactance—a state of motivational arousal that leads them to attempt to restore their threatened or lost freedom. The assumption is that people want to feel free to adopt particular positions on issues or not to adopt any position at all. Under some circumstances, persuasive messages that attempt to influence recipients to adopt particular positions may threaten their attitudinal freedom. Hence, when message recipients receive persuasive messages that are construed as threats to their attitudinal freedom, they will attempt to reassert their freedom by maintaining their initial opinion, or, more provocatively, by changing their opinion in a direction opposite the position advocated by the message. The latter effect is often labeled 'the boomerang effect.” (p. 12) © 2009, Dawn Drake
  6. 6. 6 So it seems that fear-arousing messages that project a future based on unmoderated global warming and urge significant changes in lifestyles and personal values may well be triggering both fear-avoidance denial of the problem and a boomerang effect resistance to the proposed changes. How, then, can individuals be effectively moved to take proenvironmental action in the face of this threat that has already been communicated, and for many, triggered resistance? Decision-Making Stages Luc Pelletier and Elizabeth Sharp (2008) investigated how persuasive message design can affect proenvironmental behaviors. They found that behavioral decision-making progresses through three stages: a detection phase, a decision phase, and an implementation phase, and the kinds of information and motivation that people respond to change as they move through the stages. In the detection phase, messages should draw attention to the specific problem that is personally relevant. If we do not recognize a problem as personally relevant, we pay little attention to the message. The most common strategy for attracting attention is to use a fear-arousing message. As noted previously, though, a communication that induces too much anxiety or is perceived as threatening to attitudinal freedom can cause us to reject that message. It is valuable to note, though, that in early studies of fear-arousing messages, Janis and Feshbach (1953) found that low-fear arousing messages © 2009, Dawn Drake
  7. 7. 7 generated “more resistance to subsequent counterpropaganda [emphasis added] and . . . perhaps a greater degree of behavioral conformity to a set of recommended practices” (p. 87). This is important because individuals who are progressing through the decision-making stages will certainly encounter counterpropaganda. After we acknowledge a specific and personally relevant problem, we progress to the decision stage. At this point, attention shifts from risk/danger to finding solutions, which is an outcome/benefit-oriented process (Pelletier & Sharp, 2008). If we cannot identify a viable solution—as may be the case when faced with the scope of change needed to respond effectively to global warming—we may abandon any serious attempt to respond to the challenge at all. Clearly, at this point the strategy should be to provide a tenable source of hope: something that encourages belief that our efforts can succeed. Once we decide to pursue a solution, we are ready to move into the implementation phase. This is the stage in which we take action. With action comes experiencing the consequences of that action. If we perceive the experience as positive, and thus self-reinforcing, there is a good chance that we will repeat the behavior. If, on the other hand, we perceive the experience as negative, we are less likely to repeat the behavior unless the motivation to persist is strong and/or there is support that helps to offset the negative aspect(s) of the experience. Pelletier & Sharp (2008) note, Given that successfully initiating a change in behaviour may be associated with people's confidence in their ability to execute the © 2009, Dawn Drake
  8. 8. 8 behaviour, the primary challenge to continuing these initial efforts is sustaining the behaviour in the face of people's experiences with the new behaviour. (p. 213) Thus, in the implementation phase, we need a clear strategy and well- defined tactics; furthermore, we need a support system in place to provide encouragement and assist in adjusting actions as needed. Applying the Stages Let’s apply what we know about behavioral decision-making to our question: How can individuals be effectively moved to take proenvironmental action in the face of the threat that has already been communicated, and for many, triggered resistance? Detection The keys in the detection phase are identification of a problem and recognition that it is personally relevant. It seems reasonable to assume that very few people today are unaware that we are facing serious environmental problems. Those who drop out in the detection phase either deny the problem, possibly due to a fear-avoidance response, or do not consider the issue to be personally relevant. The possibility that anyone would think the environmental problems and global warming is not personally relevant is difficult to grasp, unless considered in light of how disconnected from nature we have become. Many people are so alienated from nature that they either barely notice it or they actively avoid it. It’s surprising, really. Throughout the millions of years that humans have lived on earth, our ancestors were © 2009, Dawn Drake
  9. 9. 9 reliant on nature for their daily survival. They respected its power and even honored it as “mother” (e.g., Mother Earth, Mother Nature). In less than 300 years, though, our lives have changed in dramatic ways that have cost most of us that relationship and harmony. The advent of machines in the 1700s sparked the Industrial Revolution. Society began to shift from away from primarily agriculturally based communities, in which people had a close relationship to the land, to being increasingly centered around industry. The emphasis on behaviors and attitudes that supported survival and gratification shifted from living in harmony with nature to adjusting to living and working in cities. Citizens of modern industrial countries typically live in environments, establish priorities, and participate in activities that alienate them from the natural world. Our homes, businesses, and the vehicles we travel in keep us dry and comfortable by walling us off from the outside world and artificially heating and cooling the air to maintain a stable temperature, dulling our awareness of seasonal cycles. Shuttered or curtained windows, electric lights, and alarm clocks allow us to sleep and awaken with no regard for the rising and setting of the sun. We shop in grocery stores where food reveals little evidence of its natural source. Our entertainment relies on electronic images and sounds, delivered through televisions, radios, personal music players, computers, video game players . . . all of which distract us and drown out the sights and sounds and feel of nature. It seems only the very young run into the wind, © 2009, Dawn Drake
  10. 10. 10 play in the dirt, and jump in puddles . . . if their parents aren’t too worried about dirty clothes. Do children even climb trees any more, or roam through forests and groves? Even campers who want to “get back to nature” often do it with all of the comforts of home in their air-conditioned, appliance-filled, plugged-in and tripped-out RVs. John Mack (Staub and Green, 1992), a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, had this to say about the attitude toward the earth that is now prevalent in industrialized countries: We regard it as a thing, a big thing, an object to be owned, mined, fenced, guarded, stripped, built upon, dammed, ploughed, burned, blasted, bulldozed, and melted to serve the material needs and desires of the human species at the expense, if necessary, of all other species, which we feel at liberty to kill, paralyze, or domesticate for our own use. Among the many forms of egoism that have come to be the focus of psychodynamically oriented psychologists in an age of self-criticism about our narcissism, this form of species arrogance has received little scrutiny. (p. 240) Mack goes on to quote Vaclav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic (and last President of Czechoslovakia), addressing the U.S. Congress in 1990: Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which the world is headed—be it ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown in civilization— will be unavoidable. (p. 241) Can we change human consciousness to restore our connection so that the environment is once again personally relevant to us? © 2009, Dawn Drake
  11. 11. 11 Researchers Elizabeth Nisbet, John Zelenski, and Steven Murphy (2009), of Carleton University, developed and tested a Nature Relatedness Scale to evaluate individuals’ feeling of connection to nature in relation to their environmental behaviors. Their research indicated that people who have a strong relationship to nature spend more time outside in natural environments, are more concerned about the environment, have stronger opinions about ecological issues, and report more positive environmental behavior. Nesbit et al. (2009) also noted research demonstrating that a change in individual perceptions of the nature-human relationship can occur in response to structured nature experiences such as wilderness trips and outdoor adventure programs. In another study, researchers E. Kals, D. Schumacher, and L. Montada (1999) defined emotional affinity, or love, for nature so that they could explore how it motivates proenvironmental behavior. The term love of nature is most often found in and reflects a romantic attitude that is used in many different contexts, such as poems, songs, or product advertising. Feeling good, free, safe in nature, and feeling a oneness with nature are further nuances conceived to be closely related to love of nature . . . . (p. 182) Kals et al. (1999) found two responses to nature that combine to increase the likelihood of proenvironmental behaviors: “Interest [which] motivates gathering knowledge to explain and understand phenomena,” and “Emotional affinity [which motivates] contact and sensual experiences” (p. © 2009, Dawn Drake
  12. 12. 12 182). Both interest and emotional affinity were facilitated by spending time in nature, especially when the experience was shared with significant others. The communication of feelings and the transference of positive social emotions to the natural environment both may contribute to the emergence of an emotional affinity. Security feelings mediated by significant others may prevent negative associations. Curiosity and cognitive interest may also be stimulated by the questions, hints, and information communicated by significant others. (p. 182) Based on their findings, Kals et al. (1999) recommended fostering interest in, and emotional affinity for, nature by creating experiences that stimulate discussions about ecological responsibility and ethics, and also by promoting direct involvement with nature through activities that engage all five senses. They emphasized that including significant others in these pursuits could be expected to enhance the results of such efforts. Children, especially, benefit from opportunities to bond with nature at an early age. In Beyond the Pre/Trans Fallacy: The Validity of Pre-Egoic Spiritual Experience, S. Taylor (2009) notes that young children’s awareness is similar to indigenous people’s in that both experience the world in a very sensual way, and while young children’s ego boundaries are still more permeable they “perceive the world around them as alive [emphasis in original]” (p. 27). This first step of connecting to nature is crucial. As Mack (Staub & Green, 2008) says, “Only experiences that profoundly alter our view of nature and reconnect us with the divinity in ourselves and in the environment can empower people to commit themselves to the prodigious task before them” (p. 242). © 2009, Dawn Drake
  13. 13. 13 Decision When a loving relationship with nature develops, we become more aware of the damage being done, thereby increasing our motivation to protect it, not only for our own survival but also out of compassion for what we love. Emerging from the detection phase with a problem that we recognize as important to us, the next step is to decide whether to take action to respond to the problem. At this point, consciously or unconsciously, we look at the goal, assess whether it seems achievable, and evaluate the costs and benefits of proposed solutions. This can include identifying the actions that will be needed and considering the rationale to determine whether we believe they will solve or alleviate the problem (Pelletier & Sharp, 2008). It is in this stage that heart and mind meet, and resolve can be strengthened or weakened. Information is obtained and processed during the decision stage, and now that we are emotionally involved, we think more deeply about the issues. Interestingly, market researchers Maheswaran and Meyers-Levy (1990) found that while simpler messages are more persuasive when framed positively, complex messages may be more persuasive when framed negatively. Thus, information-rich warnings about global warming have more influence at this stage, but in being persuaded of the danger, we might also be more pessimistic and therefore more easily pushed back into a fear-avoidance response. Our understanding of the problem and negatively- framed messages that we hear now may confound our desire to help as we © 2009, Dawn Drake
  14. 14. 14 take in the enormity, complexity, and advanced stage of environmental damage and global warming. Some will turn away, despairing of being able to achieve the desired change: Perhaps the necessary actions or changes seem too challenging, require unwanted lifestyle changes, or may have unpleasant consequences. A visionary charismatic leader can inspire and “fire up” someone who has reached the decision stage. A recent multi-cultural study (Hwang, K., Khatri, N., and Srinivas, E., 2005) evaluated visionary and charismatic characteristics in leaders, determining that although the qualities are often found together in highly effective leaders, they are distinct qualities with unique characteristics. Their research indicated that effective visionary leaders provide clarity and direction to their followers using a cognitive approach that presents the vision with extensive data that is interpreted and framed in ways that are personally meaningful to their followers. Charismatic leaders, on the other hand, appeal to the heart. They have strong social and persuasive skills, and attract a broad demographic audience. More importantly, they have “deeper internal qualities such as attentiveness to followers' expressed and implied needs, ability to frame issues so as to align different needs, and providing [sic] followers with the desired assurance and security to forge ahead” (p. 962). Martin Luther King is an obvious example of a leader who was both visionary and charismatic. He galvanized Americans and sparked social © 2009, Dawn Drake
  15. 15. 15 change in the face of overwhelming resistance: proof of the power and potential of focused actions fired by passionate commitment to a goal. Sadly, to date, no leader who is both visionary and charismatic has emerged to bring focus and passion to solving the environmental crisis. Finding such a leader will be all the more difficult because this problem must be addressed at a global level. Could a single individual lead citizens from all countries to cooperate in restoring balance to our environment, or must several charismatic visionaries join together to lead the world in a common effort? Either way, it’s a very tall order. Implementation Leaders define the vision that gives direction and motivates, but the goals for massive social change are achieved through the efforts of committed, action-oriented followers. The vision must be grounded into a sound strategy that is implemented with effective action. Plans must be developed, communicated, and acted upon; workers must be recruited, trained, and supported; results must be measured, evaluated, and disseminated in an ongoing cycle of strategizing, planning, and acting. As the strategists, planners, and people working to carry out the plans move forward, it is paramount that they continue to focus on fostering nature-human connections and advancing their vision of the future, not their fears. Each individual who reaches the implementation phase contributes to the next round in the cycle that, if successful, could build enough momentum © 2009, Dawn Drake
  16. 16. 16 to save the world. There is a popular metaphysical maxim that states, “Energy flows where attention goes,” and another that states, “What you resist persists.” Energies need to stay focused on flowing toward the vision, not resisting the fear. Conclusion We are facing an environmental crisis that threatens—at the very least—current lifestyles around the globe, and possibly even the survival of many species on earth, including our own. This is not a prospect for some far- distant future generation: it is one that we and our children are already experiencing. Understandably, the harbingers of this change are sending alarming messages to rouse the world into immediate action to try to stop, or at least slow and minimize, the damage. However, the current efforts, which seem to come from a variety of well-intentioned but uncoordinated sources, have little beneficial impact. Instead of investing so much energy into spreading a vision of environmental disaster, we need to direct our energies into manifesting a new vision of a healthy, balanced environment. We need to get out of the boxes that we live in and walk outside . . . wherever we are . . . and develop a relationship that inspires a deep and profound commitment to protecting all of nature: a loving relationship that will inspire and prod us to make necessary choices and take necessary actions on a global scale to change our © 2009, Dawn Drake
  17. 17. 17 environmental course. Striving from that place in our hearts, working together, we could bring a future we love into being. © 2009, Dawn Drake
  18. 18. 18 References Hwang, A., Khatri, N., & Srinivas, E. (2005). Organizational charisma and vision across three countries. Management Decision, 43(7/8), 960-974. doi:10.1108/00251740510609965 Janis, I., & Feshbach, S. (1953). Effects of fear-arousing communications. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 48(1), 78-92. doi:10.1037/h0060732 Kals, E., Schumacher, D., & Montada, L. (1999). Emotional affinity toward nature as a motivational basis to protect nature. Environment and Behavior, 31, 178-202. doi:10.1177/00139169921972056 Mack, J. (1992). Inventing a psychology of our relationship to the earth. In S. Staub & P. Green (Eds.), Psychology and social responsibility: Facing global challenges (237-247). New York: New York University Press. Maheswaran, D., & Meyers-Levy, J. (1990). The influence of message framing and issue involvement. Journal of Marketing Research, 27, 361-367. Retrieved from http://csaweb113v.csa.com.ezproxy.itp.edu:2048/ids70/view_record.php ?id=2&recnum=0&log=from_res&SID=7ho3tspj8a780dl6ffi9bmr557& mark_id=search%3A2%3A0%2C0%2C1 Nisbet, E., Zelenski, J., & Murphy, S. (2009). The nature relatedness scale: Linking individuals' connection with nature to environmental concern and behavior. Environment and Behavior, 41(5), 715-740. doi:10.1177/0013916508318748 Pelletier, L., & Sharp, E. (2008). Persuasive communication and proenvironmental behaviours: How message tailoring and message framing can improve the integration of behaviours through self- determined motivation. Canadian Psychology, 49(3), 210-217. doi:10.1037/a0012755 Rogers, R. W. (1975). A protection motivation theory of fear appeals and attitude change. The Journal of Psychology, 91, 93-114. Retrieved from http://csaweb113v.csa.com.ezproxy.itp.edu:2048/ids70/view_record.php ?id=4&recnum=0&log=from_res&SID=7ho3tspj8a780dl6ffi9bmr557& mark_id=search%3A4%3A6%2C0%2C1 © 2009, Dawn Drake
  19. 19. 19 Ruiter, R., Abraham, C., & Kok, G. (2001). Scary warnings and rational precautions: A review of the psychology of fear appeals. Psychology and Health, 16, 613-630. doi:10.1080/08870440108405863 Taylor, S. (2009). Beyond the pre/trans fallacy: The validity of pre-egoic spiritual experience. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 41(1), 22-43. Retrieved from http://www.atpweb.org.ezproxy.itp.edu:2048/jtparchive/momain.asp?ci d=1781 Umeh, K. (2004). Cognitive appraisals, maladaptive coping, and past behaviour in protection motivation. Psychology and Health, 19(6), 719- 735. doi:10.1080/0887044042000196692 Union of Concerned Scientists. (2009). Climate change in the United States: The prohibitive costs of inaction. Retrieved October 12, 2009 from http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/cl imate-costs-of-inaction.html Zhang, Y., & Buda, R. (1999). Moderating effects of need for cognition on responses to positively versus negatively framed advertising messages. Journal of Advertising, 28(2), 1-15. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.itp.edu:2048/pqdweb?did=45065913&s id=4&Fmt=4&clientId=45836&RQT=309&VName=PQD © 2009, Dawn Drake

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