Human Psychology and the Environment

Different psychological mechanisms influence how motivated we are to engage in pro-environmental behaviors. These mechanisms contribute to the intention-action gap: why our beliefs and preferences are not reflected in our everyday behavior. 

Cognitive sciences help us understand why we act the way we do, and what interventions can be put in place to bridge the gap. 

For example, our tendency to discount the future can be a liability when it comes to the ecological transition. Yet careful design can offset these effects, and even help us create a friendlier world. 

Perhaps most importantly, our social psychology plays a determining role for our pro-environmental behavior. We might be motivated to eat less meat because our friends are doing it. Or we might want to buy a big car to keep up with our neighbors. Even the way we seek and understand information depends on powerful social forces. 

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THE PARADOX

Growing awareness about the ecological crisis does not translate into more individual action.

MINIMIZED EFFORTS

Individuals have been selected to minimize efforts for a given reward.

COSTLY SIGNALING

Humans use costly signals to attract mates and cooperation partners of competitive biological markets.

PRESENT ORIENTATION

Individuals discount the future, leading to less investment in the environment. 

INFORMATION PROCESSING

Humans have very specific information processing systems. Information can easily get lost.

COOPERATION

Humans are reciprocal altruists. They need proof that others are doing their part to take action.