People will use less energy if told that their neighbours are more efficient energy consumers. That’s just one way to get people past their psychological barriers to acting more environmentally friendly according to new research out of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. New Scientist has the story.
This month, an American Psychological Association (APA) task force released a report highlighting these and other psychological barriers standing in the way of action. But don’t despair. The report also points to strategies that could be used to convince us to play our part. Sourced from psychological experiments, we review tricks that could be deployed by companies or organisations to encourage climate-friendly behaviour. Also, on page 40 of this issue, psychologist Mark van Vugt of the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands describes the elements of human nature that push us to act altruistically.
The affluent young, for instance, tend to be diet conscious, and this could be used to steer them away from foods like cheeseburgers – one of the most climate-unfriendly meals around because of the energy it takes to raise cattle. So when trying to convince them to forgo that carbon-intensive beef pattie, better to stress health benefits than harp on about the global climate.
Though conservative pundits have been known to attack such efforts, characterising them as psychological manipulation or “mind control”, experiments indicate that people are willing to be persuaded. “From participants in our experiments, we’ve never heard a negative backlash,” says Wesley Schultz of California State University in San Marcos. In fact, according to John Petersen of Oberlin College, Ohio, we are used to far worse. “Compared to the barrage of advertising, it seems milder than anything I experience in my daily life,” he says.