Best Behavior and Environment Studies of 2022
We are now at the end of 2022, wondering how this year flew by so fast (despite sometimes feeling so slow).
As others recap this year with climate victories and resolutions for 2023, we are highlighting five articles from this year that discussed critical environmental issues through a behavioral science lens. From protecting biodiversity and emphasizing community-based conservation to centering climate change equity in future decisions, understanding the various facets and roles of behavior change is paramount.
1. Emotions are a vastly under-used tool in environmental initiatives, but they shouldn’t be.
Katie Williamson and Erik Thulin of Rare’s Center for Behavior & the Environment authored a piece for Ecology & Society about the powerful roles of emotions in environmental campaigns. Emotions like pride, the prospect of shame, hope, and fear are underrepresented in conservation initiatives in part because emotions are so complex. Each can be harnessed in different ways when applied in different contexts. Katie and Erik dove into the literature to propose specific pathways through which certain emotions can be most effective. For example, they found that hope can encourage people to take action when facing an obstacle or threat that can realistically be overcome. Katie and Erik suggest other emotional pathways and conclude with important reminders, including ethical considerations, in using emotions in any sort of behavioral work.
Read the study here: Williamson, K. A., & Thulin, E. (2022). Leveraging emotion-behavior pathways to support environmental behavior change. Ecology and Society, 27(3).
Read our recap here: https://rare.org/report/new-report-highlights-the-scientific-credibility-of-leveraging-human-emotions/
2. Equity in behavior-centered conservation solutions should be the new norm.
Over the years, researchers have explored the connection between equity and conservation movements. Then, they started looking into the relationship between behavior change and conservation. Now, a paper by Crosman et al. (2022) analyzes the intersection of all three: equity, behavior-focused solutions, and the world of conservation. The team argues that all conservation initiatives must center equity in all aspects of design for solutions to be durable and successful, in addition to being fair and just. It’s not sufficient to evaluate only the results for equity; groups must also critically consider the “problem” being fixed, the solution selected, and the outcomes prioritized. Beyond a call to action, the team of researchers provides specific recommendations for all stakeholders of a conservation campaign, from the “agenda-setters” to the conservation practitioners.
Read the article here: Crosman, Katherine M., et al. “An Equity Lens on Behavioral Science for Conservation.” Conservation Letters, vol. 15, no. 5, 28 Apr. 2022, 10.1111/conl.12885. Accessed 13 Dec. 2022.
3. Nudging, as a form of choice architecture, can positively impact behavior change.
Nudging is a notorious tool in the world of behavioral science. It is a form of choice architecture, which is a set of strategies that changes the environment in which we make choices without undermining our agency in the process. In this paper by Mertens et al. (2022) for PNAS, the team reviews the literature to see if nudging actually works across different domains. Their major finding after looking through 440 pieces of existing research analysis: “Not only does choice architecture facilitate behavior change, but… it does so across a wide range of behavioral domains, population segments, and geographical locations.” This is particularly true when the scope of the behavioral invention is small to medium in size. For example, adjustments in menu structure to increase plant-based food consumption has shown to be effective.
Read the journal article here: Mertens, S., Herberz, M., Hahnel, U. J. J., & Brosch, T. (2022). The effectiveness of nudging: A meta-analysis of choice architecture interventions across behavioral domains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(1). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2107346118
4. Not only can nudging be effective in the right scenarios, but intentional, small-scale interventions can be used to combat climate change.
We know science says nudging can be effective – but when should choice architecture be used to encourage individuals to make changes in the name of protecting the climate? Science writer Adele Peters focuses on nudges and individual action in this piece for Fast Company, as well as the role choice architecture can have in helping us reduce emissions in our day-to-day tasks. She argues that nudges are only powerful in systems that allow them to be effective (e.g., a nudge initiative to increase bike riders in a city will only work if the city’s roads are biker-friendly). This insight reminds us that campaigns focused on behavior change and conservation must consider societal nuances. For example, a nudge to reduce red meat consumption and increase plant-based meal intake won’t work in food-poor areas. Using nudging to encourage pro-environmental behaviors can actually lessen an individual’s impact on the climate, as long as it is done intentionally and with a mind to equity considerations.
Read the piece here: Peters, A. (2022, April 11). How “choice architecture” can help fight climate change [Review of How “choice architecture” can help fight climate change]. Fast Company, Inc.; Mansueto Ventures.
5. The success of restoration efforts depends on behavioral science.
What do coastal regions, coral reefs, cloud forests, mangroves, prairie plains, and deserts all have in common? Across the world, these ecosystems are being decimated by climate change and habitat destruction. Restoring these systems is crucial to mitigating species loss and the economic downfall of local communities. However, as Cerullo and Nielsen point out in their paper, restoration without behavior change interventions is often not durable over time and scale. To rectify this, the pair argue that behavioral science can be applied in three meaningful ways: 1) listing the behaviors that are causing ecosystem degradation, 2) focusing on the what, where, and why of restoration plans to include appropriate behavioral interventions, and 3) determining what behavioral strategies must be employed so that restoration continues beyond intervention. Including behavioral science throughout the restoration planning and implementation processes sets these projects up for longitudinal success.
Read the article here: Cerullo, G., & Nielsen, K. S. (2022). Decade on restoration needs behavioural science. PsyArXiv.
And there you have it – five of our favorite behavioral science pieces from 2022. We’re looking forward to 2023 to see how behavior science can inform and enhance conservation initiatives, from protecting species to uplifting the voices of local communities around the globe.
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NOTE: We intentionally chose open-access pieces for this article roundup, as we believe science, especially around climate change, should be available for all. If you have trouble accessing an article, please contact Senior Outreach Associate María Dabrowski at firstname.lastname@example.org.