Pro-Environmental Motivation: An Evolutionarily Informed Approach

Pro-Environmental Motivation: An Evolutionarily Informed Approach

Berlin, J. (2012). Pro-Environmental Motivation: An Evolutionarily Informed Approach (Doctoral dissertation, Arizona State University).

Pro-environmental goals often pit immediate self-interest against future communal interest. Consequently, the motivation to behave in pro-environmental ways can be particularly difficult to maintain over time. By framing environmental ills as threats to one’s chronic concerns, I suggest that chronic motivations, such as disease avoidance, can be leveraged to engender longer-lasting proenvironmental motivation. Specifically,   suggest that three distinct categories of environmental ills should be associated with distinct chronic concerns, and that the mechanisms that regulate these concerns should also regulate reactions to related environmental ills: pollution should engage a pathogenic disgust mechanism, wastefulness a moral disgust mechanism, and framing environmental outcomes as posing safety concerns should be linked to fear and anger mechanisms. Results of four experiments did not lend consistent support to the hypotheses. Neither situationally primed concerns nor motivation-relevant individual differences produced consistent results suggesting an association between the proposed motivations and the relevant environmental outcomes.

Chapter 1

Initially, I proposed a single experiment to test the hypothesis that activating specific fundamental motivations should elicit negative reactions to specific environmental ills. Specifically, I hypothesized that activating a disease avoidance mindset would lead to greater dislike for water pollution, that activating a cheater-detection mindset would lead to greater dislike for resource wastefulness, and that activating a self-protection mindset would lead to greater dislike for environmental outcomes framed as physical safety threats. Moreover, I proposed that individual differences in sensitivity to each of these goal domains would moderate the above effects. After reviewing the relevant literature, I present the results of the initially  roposed experiment. I then briefly present three additional follow-up studies designed to investigate further my hypotheses. The Challenges of Creating and Maintaining Pro-Environmental Motivation There are certainly reasons why pro-environmental motivation is difficult to engage and sustain. First, people tend to focus their motivation on threats and opportunities that are more immediate than those that seem more distal. Most environmental problems, even when foreseeable, have consequences that will not be experienced until well into the future and perhaps in a location that seems far from oneself. For example, some behaviors that are beneficial for the environment have costs in the present (e.g., walking rather than driving), whereas the benefits of these behaviors to the self and environment (e.g., cleaner air) are not available until well in the future. The temporal distance of these outcomes decreases the relative importance placed on them. People tend to prefer immediate benefits to larger future benefits. For example, Hardisty and Weber (2009) found that, just as people prefer less money now to more in the future, they also prefer fewer days of clean air now to more days of clean air in the future. In other words, environmental benefits that accrue far into the future are worth less to people (i.e., discounted) than are those that accrue immediately. Motivation to engage in pro-environmental behaviors may be difficult to engage or maintain relative to other goals because pro-environmental goals often lack a sense of immediacy.
A second challenge to engaging and maintaining pro-environmental goals is the uncertainty associated with the sense that one’s behaviors will actually lead to the desired outcomes. Research on prosocial behavior (e.g., Batson, 1998; Latané & Darley, 1970) demonstrates that it becomes more likely when there is a direct and apparent causal connection between one’s actions and the outcome—when individuals have the sense that they personally are in a position to help (Bickman, 1972). Uncertainty, in contrast, reduces people’s likelihood of engaging in prosocial behavior. This is especially the case when individuals are uncertain as to whether others will share their sacrifices (Platt, 1973). For instance, if everyone in a community were to ride their bikes rather than drive their cars, an individual could be relatively assured that his or her efforts would lead to less smog. It’s often costly, however, to ride one’s bike rather than drive. Driving can reduce the amount of time to get to work, for instance—and the time savings could translate into more free time after work to do things one enjoys. Additionally, one would get to work in better condition—for example, sweat-free and in professional attire. To the extent that a bicyclist is uncertain whether others are also willing to sacrifice the benefits of driving, she is less likely to maintain the motivation to keep cycling.
Implicit in the above discussion is the idea that people have many goals they hope to achieve and that these goals are sometimes incompatible. Proenvironmental goals are often at odds  with a person’s other goals and, because of the lack of immediacy and certainty associated with pro-environmental goals, they may often be given a lower priority than other goals.
Unfortunately, many persuasive attempts to elicit and strengthen proenvironmental motivation rely on cold  ationality and consideration of distal outcomes. For example, the trailer for the documentary based on the book An Inconvenient Truth (Gore, 2006) shows images of landscapes as they are predicted to be at some point in the future if current patterns do not change, implying that a change is necessary to prevent such dire outcomes. It should not be surprising when arguments based on rational consideration of future outcomes are insufficient to overcome immediate self-interest and desires. Metcalfe and Mischel’s (1999) review of self-regulation describes a “cool” cognitive system—rational and strategic decision-making—often as odds with a “hot” emotion-driven system focusing on immediate states and outcomes and often seeking to undermine attempts at self-control. When confronted with psychologically immediate desires, a high degree of self-regulatory effort will be required to engage in and maintain pro-environmental motivation. Such motivation will likely be subject to attrition and goal fatigue (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000).
There would seem to be, then, much to gain by identifying solutions that work with, rather than against, the hotter, more psychologically immediate motivations (Kenrick, Griskevicius, Sundie, Li, Li, & Neuberg, 2009). By mapping pro-environmental outcomes not onto long-term, coldly-rational interests, but rather onto one’s more immediate, more emotionally-laden self-interests—and therefore requiring less active self-regulation and creating less goal fatigue—one might better enable persistence of pro-environmental behaviors. I propose that linking pro-environmental motivation to fundamental motives (Kenrick, Li, & Butner, 2003) may in fact do just this.
Leveraging Fundamental Motives
Kenrick and colleagues (Kenrick et al., 2003; 2010a; 2010b) have argued that human beings evolved to have a distinct set of fundamental motives that enabled them to meet specific long-recurring survival and reproductive challenges. Those challenges include self-protection, disease avoidance, social affiliation, status acquisition, mate acquisition, mate retention, and kin care. Those who were attuned to and motivated to meet those challenges were more likely to survive and reproduce than were others. Over time, this differential reproductive success, combined with the heritability of these inclinations, led to a world largely populated by those naturally attuned to and motivated to address these domains of challenge.
These fundamental motives are readily engaged when success in these domains is threatened, leading to the activation of strategies for mitigating the threat (or approaching the opportunity). Moreover, these motives tend to be affectively “hot”—threats to their achievement tend to elicit strong emotions such as disgust, anger, resentment, and fear. Given the universality of these motives, the ease with which they are activated, and their tight connections to strong emotions, aligning pro-environmental behaviors with fundamental motives may be a more effective way of producing consistent and sustained behavioral change.
Disease Avoidance. Disease avoidance motivations, which operate via pathogenic disgust mechanisms (Oaten, Stevenson, & Case, 2009), engage highly evolved processes designed to  detect and avoid pathogen-infested objects and behaviors, thereby reducing the risk of contagion ( Neuberg, Kenrick, & Schaller, 2011; Rozin, Haidt, & McCauley, 2007). The disease avoidance system enables people to avoid disgust-elicitors without much effort or even conscious awareness. For example, one study by Mortensen et al. (2010) demonstrated that after viewing images of disgusting, germ-laden objects, individuals rated themselves as more introverted and less open to new experiences than did individuals who viewed neutral images. Although people were likely unaware that they rated themselves as more introverted and less open to experience than they would otherwise, this subtle change in self-characterization would likely lead them to behave in ways that limit their likelihood of exposure to pathogens against which one’s body has yet to develop defenses (and which are more likely to lurk in the bodies of strangers and in novel environments). This finding is part of a larger body of work on what Schaller and colleagues (Schaller & Duncan, 2007; Schaller & Park, 2011 ) have labeled the behavioral immune system, which works to bias people toward behaving in ways to minimize exposure to pathogen threats.
Given the strong motivation to avoid disease, one might ask whether this motivation can be leveraged to reach specific environmental goals. Evidence suggests that physically disgusting objects are easily made salient and difficult to forget. Once created, disgust associations are difficult to extinguish (Baeyens, Crombez, van den Bergh, & Eelen,1988; Olatunji, Forsyth, & Cherian, 2007). A growing body of evidence suggests that disgust reactions can be acquired, and that pairings between specific anti-environmental behaviors and disgust reactions may be created. For example, after getting ill from a food, people tend to dislike that food and avoid eating it in the future (Rozin, 1986). Children do not exhibit contamination sensitivity or  aversion to foul but nonirritant odors until ages 3 to 5 (Petó, 1936; Rosen & Rozin, 1993), and some evidence suggests that some elicitors of disgust seem to be acquired by observation facial displays of others (Tomkins, 1963). What is disgusting to children (and adults) in one culture may not be disgusting to members of a different culture. In sum, the research on disgust indicates that not only is it linked to the goal of disease avoidance, but that it is also possible to create associations between certain kinds of objects and disgust. Consequently if behaviors that are bad for the environment could be paired with disgust reactions, then the disease avoidance motivation could be leveraged to encourage a prolonged motivation to behave in pro-environmental (or not engage in anti-environmental) behaviors.
Protecting against resource loss. People want to defend themselves against disease. They also want to protect themselves against unfair losses of important, tangible resources, as may occur when others violate rules of social exchange, take more than their fair share, and the like. Reactions to those who violate such social norms often take the forms of moral disgust and anger.
Although moral disgust has several features in common with pathogenic disgust, it differs greatly in terms of its eliciting stimuli. Work by Tybur, Lieberman, and Griskevicius (2009) demonstrated a distinction between individuals sensitive to pathogenic (i.e., physical) disgust and individuals sensitive to moral disgust, suggesting that these are psychologically distinct constructs. Pathogenic disgust is theorized to have evolved first, with moral disgust building on the existing pathogenic disgust mechanisms in a way tailored to encourage the avoidance (or ostracism) of individuals anticipated to do social harm.
One particular form of social harm is cheating, or taking resources that have not been fairly earned. Humans are ultrasocial animals, and interpersonal trust is required for human groups to function effectively for their members. With this trust, however, comes a vulnerability to others who cheat, socially loaf, or otherwise take advantage of group efforts and resources. Consequently, people may have become attuned to detecting the presence of cheaters (Cosmides, 1989; Tooby & Cosmides, 1992, 2005). When individuals begin to feel that others have taken advantage of them or their group in some way, they begin to feel anger and moral disgust toward the perpetrator. These emotions are hypothesized to facilitate the punishment and/or ostracism of the perpetrator (Kurzban & Leary, 2001; Neuberg, Smith, & Asher, 2000).
Natural resources arguably do not belong to any one individual and, ancestrally, are likely to have been viewed as potential benefits to the entire group. Consequently, when an individual or group of individuals (or, in contemporary times, a business) uses so many natural resources that others have diminished access, members of a community may become angry towards, and morally disgusted by, the violators. Additionally, even when there are currently sufficient resources, when one uses more resources than necessary—that is, “wastes” resources—thereby showing careless disregard for communal resources or the needs of current and future generations, this too may be seen as a moral violation. As before, it would seem that one way to discourage wasteful behaviors in others is to leverage people’s natural inclination to protect resources by framing wasteful behaviors as morally disgusting. Self-Protection. Self-protection motivations often arise when in the presence of real or perceived others who intend to do harm to oneself or close others, or when in potentially dangerous circumstances. Threats to self- protection, or cues to physical danger,  ften elicit fear and consequently motivateone to avoid the threatening stimuli (Neuberg et al., 2011). Framing outcomes that are environmentally detrimental as posing an immediate physical safety threat may also motivate individuals to behave in ways designed to minimize or avoid that threat.

Chapter 6

Four experiments tested the hypothesis that the salience of concerns about one’s fundamental goals (disease avoidance in all experiments, resource protection and self-protection in Experiment 1) would predict disliking of environmental outcomes associated with those threats (pollution in all experiments, wasting resources and safety threats in Experiment 1). Across all experiments, making disease avoidance motives salient via visualization tasks did not lead to more negative evaluations of pollution (Experiments 1 through 3) or increased budgetary allocations to clean air and water (Experiment 4). This was the case whether participants imagined being part of an elaborate scenario that involved interpersonal disgust (Experiments 1 and 2), imagined themselves encountering others who exhibited disease cues (Experiments 3 and 4), or imagined themselves encountering impersonal disease cues (Experiments 3 and 4). Similarly, chronic disease concern (as measured by two separate PVD subscales) did not predict negative evaluations of pollution, whether for those situationally primed with disease concern or collapsing across all primes. However, individuals who believed themselves susceptible to catching contagious diseases (i.e., those who scored high on the infectability subscale of PVD) allocated larger portions of the initial municipal budget to clean air and water policies in Experiment 4.

The overall lack of significant findings is not likely due to a failure to elicit the intended motivational state. Manipulation checks revealed that people reported experiencing the intended affective and motivational states. It is also not likely that the descriptions of pollution failed to catch the attention of participants:
Experiment 2 indicated that any mention of pollution or smokestacks caused participants to evaluate the target company more negatively than a company not described as emitting pollutants. Additionally, in Experiment 3 when participants were asked to rank air and water pollution relative to a host of other objectively bad items, water pollution was ranked 4.4 out of 9 (where 1 represented the worst item)—almost as bad as famine, and slightly worse than poverty. Air pollution was ranked 5.2 out of 9 and was considered worse than identity theft, global warming, and overpopulation.

One area that merits more research is the role of context and conflicting goals in the consideration of environmental outcomes. The only evidence for the connection between motivational state and preferences about pollution was found in Experiment 4 when participants had to choose between several
competing options. Those individuals who perceived themselves as likely to catch communicable diseases allocated funds to clean air and water—and, by extension, to spend less on alternatives such as economic development, transportation, and other municipal services. On the whole, then, no support was found for the hypothesis that priming individuals with disease avoidance concerns would lead to particularly negative evaluations of pollution, or other relevant environmental outcomes, and limitedsupport was found for the hypothesized association between chronic pathogenic concerns and preference for environmental outcomes.
Possible explanations for null findings.
Across four experiments, no consistent support was found for the hypotheses. Two possibilities exist to explain the lack of support: (1) the hypotheses are incorrect and the proposed relationship does not exist; or (2) the hypothesized relationship exists, but was not detected. To examine the first possibility, it is important to consider whether both the independent and dependent variables corresponded to the  heoretical variables they were intended to represent (construct validity), and whether both moved in conjunction with other variables that should be theoretically relevant (Greenwald, 1975). The manipulation checks elicited the intended motivational and affective responses, so it is unlikely that the null results were due to a failure of the independent variables to elicit the intended states. To better understand whether the null results were due to a failure to capture adequate variability on the DV, it is important to establish that evaluations of pollution, for example, covary with items that should theoretically be related. Although there was no strong pattern establishing that political attitudes predicted disliking of pollution in Experiment 1, people who reported that they would be bothered by the presence of polluted water in their neighborhood evaluated the polluting company less positively. Similarly, in Experiment 3, which employed different methods, there was a positive association between liberalism and evaluating air pollution (but not water pollution) as worse. Additionally, in Experiment 2, there was a main effect of company type such that any company that mentioned pollution was evaluated more negatively than the company description that did not mention pollution. Overall then, there was modest evidence suggesting that assessments of pollution covaried when they, theoretically, were predicted to do so. These findings, as a set, suggest that the experiments, as designed, could have detected the hypothesized relationship if it had, in fact, existed, and lend support to the possibility that the hypotheses were incorrect.

Theoretical Misspecification: Toxin Avoidance rather than Disease Avoidance? Most health risks associated with pollution are from exposure to toxins, not germs. Öhman and Mineka (2001) suggest that fear, such as that elicited by exposure to venomous creatures, is learned fairly automatically upon exposure to stimuli. Similar to disease avoidance, then, toxin avoidance mechanisms, such as fear, may confer similar advantages in terms of universality and may lend itself well to sustained motivation. Like germ cues, toxin cues may be elicited by smell, sight, or taste, and may also elicit the same avoidant physical reactions (e.g., contracting nose and mouth muscles, and moving away from the threatening object). Both may share similar biological and learned aversion characteristics (e.g., olfactory cues, and learned aversion to any object that has previously made one ill). Nonetheless germ-avoidance and toxinavoidance may be distinct mechanisms,  nd the concerns may be elicited by distinct cues. Perhaps the smells associated with germ-laden substances (e.g., rot) differ from the smells associated with toxins (e.g., sulfur). Perhaps individuals attend to slightly different cues when thinking about how to avoid toxins (e.g., don’t eat the red berries that made me sick last time) than to avoid germs (e.g., don’t sit next to the man with red sores.) Unlike germ-avoidance, toxin avoidance is likely to be linked not to cues from interpersonal interactions, but rather, environmental cues. Such cues may be much more similar to the impersonal disgust manipulations used in Experiments 3 and 4, than to the interpersonal disgust manipulations. Better yet might be a manipulation that primed exposure to toxins such as encountering snakes or spiders. Future studies should investigate differences between priming scenarios that indicate a disease-laden environment and those that indicate a toxic environment. Lack of salient connection between threats. The current experiments relied on leveraging participants’ existing associations between the given environmental outcome and fundamental motive. However, it is possible that for many people there is no salient link between, for example, pollution and health concerns. In Experiment 1, participants were asked to report the extent to which they felt each company posed a  threat to their health. Those who believed the company posed a health threat evaluated it less positively. However, such associations were also present between thinking that the wasting and fire concern companies posed a health threat and disliking those companies, respectively. Consequently, it is difficult to discern whether this association reflects a genuine relationship between perceived health threat and disliking of pollution, or may, instead, merely reflect general negativity toward a company. It is also worth noting that any mention of pollution resulted in negative evaluations of companies in Experiment 2. If participants had no negative associations with pollution, whether due to health concerns or otherwise, it seems unlikely that these results would have been obtained. Contrary to the possibility that the company never elicited a health concern, another possibility is that mention of pollution universally elicited health concerns. If such were the case, then, consistent with current findings, one would expect to see no effect of situationally or dispositionally primed health concern. One might, however, expect to see effects of health-irrelevant concerns such as financial concern, to the extent that those concerns overrode health concerns. More research is needed to understand how and whether people currently think about pollution as a health threat. If it is the case that people hold no salient association with pollution as a health threat, then making explicit this association may lead to harsher evaluation of entities that pollute. However, if this association is ubiquitous, then activating it will have no effect. Rather, perhaps motivating individuals to take greater care of their health (and that of future generations) may be more likely to lead to subsequent changes in the importance people place on reducing pollution.

Future Directions

Given the current findings, it does not seem fruitful to continue to prime pathogenic concern in an attempt to increase concerns about pollution. As suggested above, however, priming toxin avoidance may have such effects.
Future studies should seek to increase the degree of specificity between the motivational state (e.g., contagion avoidance versus toxin avoidance), the elicitors of that state (e.g., rotten versus bitter smells), and the environmental outcome being evaluated (e.g. environmental ills associated with animal slaughter versus air pollution).
Perhaps more fruitful than investigating the nuances of matching the specific fundamental motives to specific types of environmental outcomes would be better understanding how individuals manage competing goals. If, for instance, people may hold the belief that manufacturing is bad for air quality but good for the economy, then perhaps increased concern for the economy would lead to less concern for air quality. Experiments 3 and 4 began to investigate this possibility, but more work needs to be done to examine a range of competing motivations, both situational and dispositional.
One possibility is that such research would shed light on which priorities are most likely to cause others to devalue negative environmental consequences. Such an understanding could, in turn, lead to the development of advertising campaigns that help people consider ways in which these competing goals can be attained in environmentally friendly ways. For instance, current cap and trade programs allow manufactures to essentially pay for credits to emit carbon dioxide. This may imply to the general population that emissions standards are a hindrance to economic development. Although on the one hand, it makes sense to create economic incentives to decrease emissions, on the other, this may unnecessarily pit two  goals against each other in the minds of the general public, and may lead individuals who are concerned about the economy to devalue the importance of clean air standards.
Alternatively, one might direct more focus to the development of green technologies and how they may simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, create jobs, and lower industrial overhead costs, thereby leading people to consider clean air standards not as something that hinders economic development but instead enhances it. If such changes in mentality occurred on a large scale, perhaps the problems associated with conflicting motivations would be eliminated, or even reversed. For this to happen, one must better understand what goals most often “compete” with environmental outcomes, and how those concerns might be reframed in a more constructive manner.

The current experiments sought to better understand ways in which universal motivations such as disease avoidance might be leveraged to engender pro-environmental motivation. These experiments tested the hypothesis that priming certain motivational states would lead to more negative evaluations of relevant environmental outcomes. It is important to understand how a host of competing goals work together to influence the way people think about environmental outcomes. In a context in which environmental outcomes are pitted against more immediate, tangible, and affectively laden goals, it is likely that pro-environmental goals would often be trumped by other goals. However, by framing environmental outcomes as working with rather than against multiple goals, then it may be possible to bring about large-scale social change for the betterment of the environment.

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