Box 4-1 _____________________________________________________
Attitudes versus Barriers to Action:-
Energy Conservation in Massachusetts, 1980

In the summer of 1980, a period of serious national concern about energy conservation and rapidly rising energy prices, one of the authors and his colleagues conducted a statewide survey of energy conservation activities in Massachusetts (Black, Stern, and Elworth, 1985). We surveyed a random sample of the house­holds served by the state's five major electric utility companies, and received responses from 478 house­holds across the state. We tried to explain why house­holds differed in what they had done to conserve energy and particularly, to see how much internal psychological factors, such as attitudes and beliefs, mattered in comparison with external factors such as income, home ownership, household size, and the like. We examined four classes of energy-saving ac­tivities: major investments (such as insulating walls and ceilings, adding storm windows, or making im­provements to furnaces), low-cost investments (such as caulking, weather stripping, or fixing leaky hot wa­ter faucets), minor curtailments (such as turning off heat in unoccupied rooms or lowering the temperature of home hot water), and changes in indoor tempera­ture. Households were asked which energy-saving activities they had undertaken, and they also re­sponded to numerous questions about their energy attitudes and beliefs, household composition, income and energy expenditures, and the structures of their homes and heating systems (such as number of rooms, heating fuel used, and ability to control heat room-by-room). The attitude questions tapped re­spondents' feelings of personal obligation—given U.S. energy problems at the time—to use less energy and to use it more efficiently.

When we analyzed our results statistically, this is what we found: Generally speaking, as the kind of energy-saving activity went from easy and inexpen­sive (changing temperature settings) to difficult and expensive (insulation and major furnace repairs), atti­tudes and beliefs became less and less important as predictors of behavior. The key results are shown on the bottom line of Table 4-1 on page 78. The numbers are based on a statistical technique known as regres­sion analysis, the details of which are beyond the scope of our discussion here. In intuitive terms, how­ever, the numbers on the bottom row indicate the strength of the relationship between people's pro-conservation attitudes and the number of conser­vation actions they took (technically, the boldface en­tries are the percentages of total explained variance in conservation actions accounted for by attitudes and beliefs). A high number indicates that respondents who had strong pro-conservation attitudes tended to take more energy conservation actions than respon­dents with weaker pro-conservation attitudes; a low number indicates little relationship between the strength of respondents' pro-conservation attitudes and the number of conservation actions they took. As the bottom row of the table shows, strength of pro-conservation attitudes correlated highly with the number of temperature-change actions taken, less highly with the number of minor curtailments made, less still with the number of low-cost investment actions taken, and least with the number of major investments made in energy efficiency. Relevant attitude and belief items from our survey are shown on the second row of the table. To restate our main findings: The more difficult and expensive the conservation action, the less people's attitudes and beliefs related to whether or not they performed the action.

These findings strongly suggest that external barri­ers and constraints set limits on what can be accom­plished by changing peoples' attitudes. The higher the barriers—expense, inconvenience, technical difficulty, and so on—the less effect pro-environmental attitudes have on behavior. It follows that inducing pro-environmental attitudes will have little effect on expensive or difficult behaviors unless the external barriers can be lowered.



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