Greater Good Science Center Membership. Register Today
   

 

Explaining Environmental Concern

By Nalini Padmanabhan | February 22, 2007 | 0 comments

Why do some people take it upon themselves to care for the environment – whether by recycling, cutting back on driving, or other methods – while others don't seem to care at all? A recent study by Swedish researchers Anna Olofsson and Susanna Öhman, published in Environment and Behavior, finds that a host of factors are associated with environmental concern among North Americans and Scandinavians – especially their levels of education, political affiliation, and their general beliefs and values.

The researchers' large scale questionnaire and system of categorization involved nearly 5,000 adults from the United States, Canada, Norway, and Sweden. Respondents were categorized according to their gender, age, education, residence type, and political affiliation, as well as their individual beliefs about materialism and individualism vs. social collectivism.

When the results were tabulated, women were shown to have higher environmental concern than men, as were younger adults and those who leaned toward the left politically. Individualists, of which there were more in the U.S. and Canada, expressed less environmental concern than collectivists.

Interestingly, education was found to be the most stable predictor of environmental concern, with a higher education level corresponding to greater concern in all four countries. The gender and age trends were weaker, and left-leaning political affiliation correlated significantly with environmental concern only in Scandinavia.

Taken on their own, these results are mostly what you'd expect. But there's more. As the old adage says, actions speak louder than words – and feeling or expressing concern about the environment doesn't necessarily mean that a person will act on that concern in a concrete way. Olofsson and Öhman noted this distinction and addressed it by adding a measure of environmental behavior to their study. While younger people felt more concern about the environment, questions about the financial sacrifices they would make to benefit the environment and relevant political behavior revealed that older adults were more likely to actually do something about their concern.

Of course, a general increase in financial stability during the life course explains part of this finding. However, there seems to be a strong bystander effect as well. One portion of the study asked participants about their level of resignation toward the environment. The same groups that expressed more environmental concern and behavior – women, collectivists, and those with more education – expressed less resigned attitudes.

Perhaps, then, the secret to saving our environment lies not just in solar powered houses or electric cars, but rather in something psychological: our own level of self-efficacy. While new technologies have the potential to make a difference, they are powerless if we don't use them, and we won't use them if we don't believe in our personal ability to make a difference.

Reference:

Olofsson, Anna and Öhman, Susanna. General Beliefs and Environmental Concern: Transatlantic Comparisons. Environment and Behavior. November 2006. Vol. 38. Pages 768-791.

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 
About The Author

Nalini Padmanabhan is a Greater Good editorial assistant.

  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  • The Science of Happiness

    March 28, 2015

  • Why Evolution Made Forgiveness Difficult

    March 24, 2015

    Nature endowed humanity with both revenge and forgiveness as tools of conflict resolution. But why does one seem so much harder than the other?

  • Happiness Greatest Hits

    March 20, 2015

    Today is the UN's International Day of Happiness! To celebrate, here's a list of some of our most illuminating and helpful happiness research, tools, and tips.

  

Greater Good Events

How Compassion Creates Resilience, with Kelly McGonigal
International House, UC Berkeley campus
May 20, 2015


How Compassion Creates Resilience, with Kelly McGonigal

A book event for The Upside of Stress


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

The Path to Purpose By William Damon Looks at how children are hampered in their search for meaning, and how concerned adults can help them find it.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement