“In-and-Out” lists are making their rounds. Out with food waste, in with compost. Out with doom-scrolling, in with community resilience. Out with climate denial, in with climate realism. But before we are entirely out of 2023 and into 2024, let’s look at five pieces that show just how “in” behavioral science continues to be as a tool for designing more effective environmental outcomes.
In 2024, behavioral science can help:
Rare CEO Brett Jenks authored a piece for Behavioral Scientist on the need to pop normative bubbles to foster climate action. What are normative bubbles? They are the gaps between what people think others think about taking action and what others actually think – a gap which spurred Rare to create a nationwide Climate Culture Index to measure the distance between what we think people are doing to combat climate change versus what they are actually doing. The BE.Center’s Erik Thulin and Rakhim Rakhimov found that the biggest predictor of taking climate action is whether or not we believe those around us are also taking that action. Popping these bubbles and challenging norms is key to finding momentum in environmental action.
If you’ve been reading the Behavior Beat newsletter this past year, you’ll recognize this concept: information alone is insufficient to elicit behavior change. This paper by Anne Toomey (2023) explores four common “myths” about the long-held belief that if people simply know enough, they will change their ways. Toomey uses existing behavioral science literature to show that:
- facts alone don’t change minds,
- scientific literacy isn’t a cure-all,
- collective behavior change (think: norm shifts) is underutilized, and
- catering messages to a targeted audience is more effective than simply “getting the word out.”
Toomey finishes the piece with suggestions to counter the myths, including appealing to values and emotions and engaging in social connection.
Read the piece here: https://behavior.rare.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Toomey-2023_BIOC.pdf.
Do communities across the globe have equal knowledge about climate change? How many think the causes of climate change are anthropogenic in nature? Who is most preoccupied about the possible effects, and where is there worrying complacency? A joint study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, Data for Good at Meta, and Rare explored possible answers to these questions and more. A Facebook user survey spanning 187 countries collected data on climate change knowledge, perceptions, attitudes, behaviors, and policy viewpoints. These data can address where knowledge gaps seem deepest and determine global trends and local anomalies.
If you are working in the environmental field, chances are your social bubble includes folks ditching plastic bags, filling reusable water bottles, and signing petitions to protect ecosystems and change policy. But outside of our bubbles, pro-environmental behaviors aren’t always the norm. A piece by Turquier et al. for the Boston Consulting Group determined eight barriers to making green behaviors more mainstream. These include awareness, access to available products, social and psychological factors, interest, and convenience. The team concluded that behavioral solutions can mitigate these obstacles and encourage consumers to choose the most environmentally friendly options where possible.
One of the research’s greatest challenges is making the theory applicable. This meta-analysis by Bergquist et al. (2023), edited by Rare Board of Trustees member and BE.Center advisor Elke Weber, synthesized behavioral findings from existing literature to highlight the most effective field interventions for climate change mitigation. The team sought to answer how effective climate change mitigation strategies are in field interventions (on average, about 12 percentage points compared to the control group). They determined that the most effective mitigation strategies are social comparison and financial incentives and assessed which pro-environmental behaviors might be most impacted by behavioral science interventions (littering came out on top). Of course, nuance is critical in interpreting these findings, and the team ends by calling for further research analyzing how combining interventions may yield higher pro-environmental behavior change.
Read the piece here: https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2214851120.
At Rare, we like data; these five articles were some of the top-read articles from our 2023 Behavior Beat monthly newsletters. It was incredibly challenging to select just five pieces; as behavioral science increases in notoriety, so does the quality and scope of the science. What articles have we missed that you would add? Let us know at email@example.com.
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