Behavioral sciences develop examinations (with a rigorous scientific methodology) that allow for the systematically observation, and describe patterns or units of human behavior in each context. From these observations, it is possible to try to understand the factors (individual and contextual) that precede (predictors) and succeed (effects) the same behaviors. Thus, understanding the relationships in which psychological processes in each context of action occur makes it possible to influence the probability of the occurrence of an event.

In other words, if we want to increase the prevalence of conduct and lifestyle that is aligned with values such as sustainability and environmental protection, behavior specialists need to study and then to disclose which factors predict the desired behavior within those who work in these areas.

Some possible questions about behavior and its laws:

Can we promote personal variables such as pro-social behaviors, environmental awareness and pro-environmental values?

Pro-social or co-operative behaviors for the common well-being are fundamental to our survival and possible to be worked at any age (in school, work and occupational context). Regarding to pro-social behaviors lined up with environmental values, these will result from a combination of factors such as personal preferences, environmental education and sustainability, empathy, etc. However, to promote these behaviors in the community, there are some tips that may be useful to environmental activists. Namely, that the probability of a behavior occurring or repeating itself will vary depending on:

  • Motivational aspects (if the person is deprived of a resource, such as water, will have more motivation and interest in understanding what he can do to obtain it – this deprivation even if is not real can be imagined – when witnessing testimonies or what might happen in the future);
  • Positive reinforcement or reward (a child may develop the habit of recycling and reducing his or her ecological footprint, in a way that it is appreciated for it and in which it learns to internally reinforce aspects of a pro-environmental identity);
  • Negative reinforcement (when something that causes aversive emotions diminishes or disappears – when someone starts to pay less the water bill because they have decreased their consumption of it);
  • Punishment (when a company pays a penalty for violating environmental impact criteria).

What role do situational variables, such as exposure to green marketing campaigns, observation of phenomena related to climate change, educational experience on climate change have?

All education practice is based on the principle that information is a necessary pre-condition for change. However, we know that providing information is not enough. When transmitting knowledge, we must consider several aspects, of which I emphasize the following:

  • People have a natural tendency to make confirmatory biases (that is to reject/delete information that contradicts their beliefs and to select information that will corroborate them). So, if we want to present a potentially dissonant argument, it will be useful to understand the interlocutor’s belief system, to bring together and to sustain our argument on clear data and/ or supporting evidence (Center for Research on Environmental Decisions).
  • In addition, it is worth noting that our brain tends to reduce or distance us from long-term events, dissociating in the present the awareness we must have of what to do to prevent such events (let’s take for example a smoker, who despite knowing the likelihood of developing a carcinogenic problem continues to smoke). Thus, it is fundamental to make information more experiential in moment when it’s transmitted. Information that involves emotional experience or multiple senses (and therefore videos are particularly useful) can be memorized more easily and harness more easily for action.

What role do contextual factors play as the type of policy applied in the country of residence?

For Biglan, it is clear that’s necessary to influence the actions of the organizations (what we can do when we vote or when we preferentially consume the products of a company), because in turn, it is the organizations that influence the values and individuals (just think about what are the trendsetters). The author also gives an example of legal frameworks: the effect of raising taxes on products and in the consuming of the same ones (such as tobacco) and, for example, a financial reward program for commercial establishments for not selling tobacco to adolescents on the decrease of illegal sale. It also refers to the role of media marketing and information campaigns and their ability to shape citizens’ choices.

There is a consensus that humans affect the environment and have a chance to influence it. However, a science-based behavioral change strategy is needed to help us determine how we can effectively lead humans to commit to combating climate change.

With these reflections, I hope to have helped to spread with those of you, who take an interest in or are engaged in environmental activism, that there is already some work and resources developed for this.


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