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Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

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Conservation Attitude Versus Global Environmental Disaster

Humans need to have or develop environmental-friendly behavior for Earth’s conservation. Conservation Psychology strives hard to let people understand their vital role in decreasing the risk of the environment to deteriorate.

Psychologists use various approaches to explore how humans can develop conservation behavior. Conservation Psychology also promotes positive conservation attitudes.

Social psychologist Mark van Vugt (2009) proposes how to overcome Garret Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons”, an economic problem in which every individual tries to reap the greatest benefit from a given resource”. According to Vugt, there are four conditions or 4i principles “necessary for successful management of shared environmental resources”.

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People must have access to accurate information on how bad a situation is. For example, if there is drought coming, they should know how to face the situation, and that is by conserving water and energy. The information can be a key predictor for them how to react in specific situations and circumstances.

Teaching people about the good benefits of conservation, including the most convenient ways to conserve is a very effective form of information. It also promotes more environmental-friendly behavior.


Identity refers to the feeling that an individual is part of a group with common beliefs and practices. According to George (2010), it could be anonymous, like a neighborhood. Conservation campaigns try to address people who identify themselves as a group practicing common beliefs.

For example, “a US energy company sent invoices with a smiley or frowny face to tell its customers if they were consuming more or less than the neighborhood average (George, 2010)”. This resulted in a dramatic reduced consumption.


Mark Van Vugt believes that institutions play a vital role in promoting conservation. The government is a perfect institution which can lead to promoting conservation behavior. However, some institutions may not be perceived as trustworthy. Some of them neglect their duty to the environment for their good only.

According to a study, individuals are likely to obey “energy restrictions” if certain leaders imposing the rule are trustworthy.


Another approach is to provide incentives. It could be through rewards and fines. The power company can impose fines for energy overuse; the government can reward households with less consumption of energy; corporations can grant monetary incentives for offices practicing “green” methods, and even putting water meters in homes so they can monitor their water consumption level. Incentivizing conservation behavior is effective as individuals can be provided with direct benefit.

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For Mark Van Vugt, these principles can combat environmental disasters, including issues surrounding sustainable development, economic growth, environmental protection, and even global warming. According to Agardy (2010), van Vugt’s perspective can lead to a group behavior that is “both altruistic and ecologically sustainable”.

These principles are envisioned to be incorporated into the ocean zoning process, a policy approach that aims to manage and preserve the resources in oceanic environments. “Once stakeholders are identified and engaged, they should be encouraged to show their own vision for the goal of the ocean zoning”.

Expanding Our Understanding of Conservation Psychology

There have been various psychological research to measure human’s care for the natural environment. These approaches can encourage personal relationships with natures.

Some of these famous research include Tanner & Chawla’s study about significant life experience; Kaplan & Kaplan’s research about the restorative qualities of nature; Clayton &Opotow’s environmental identity research; and Khan, Kellert & Wilson’s Biophilia research. On the other hand, Vernon et. Al (1997) portrayed how principles “derived from similar research have been applied in a zoo setting, using a process of collaboration between researchers and educators”.

According to Clayton, zoos and aquariums are “interesting setting for psychologists” which can help them measure how individuals and organizations make profession toward their conservation measures.

In May 2002, Brookfield Zoo invited a group of 65 leaders from various disciplines including sociology, philosophy, conservation biology and most especially, psychology. They were asked to “describe certain conservation initiatives in need of social science research” to come up with perspectives to address the practical issues. The researchers and advocates were divided into four groups to study about these four themes:

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Connections To Animals

The panel was asked to know about caring relationships with the natural world develop and how caring for animals lead to caring for the environment in general. The group “focused on how to document the ways zoos and aquariums contribute toward developing a caring attitude towards animals”. They have offered various ideas from the human-animal literature that would be essential for crafting more programs and evaluations.

Connections To Place

The second panel was asked to know about how urban settings help their populations celebrate local biodiversity and develop a sense of regional pride. They also sought about what techniques would be essential to encourage people to get involved in conservation behaviors at the community level. They offered various ideas “ranging from social marketing techniques to what we know about creating a place-based environmental identity in an urbanizing world”.

Environmentally-Friendly Behavior

The third group was oriented to discover how they will choose among the different theoretical models and practical approaches for encouraging behavior change. The researchers explored the approaches and selected among the appropriate level of analysis to know they can promote environmentally-friendly behavior.

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Environmental Values

The fourth panel considered questions about how they can create values-based communications that address different types of environmental concerns and how they can build public support and influence national policy. Their discussion explored “various value systems that underlie environmental concern and how to measure them”.

For Saunders (2003), “conservation psychology will need efficient ways to facilitate cooperation between researchers and practitioners, and between the researchers themselves”. Thus, there is more needed studies and research to mitigate the inherent complexity of environmental problems.

Becker and his colleagues (1999) proposed additional materials on how to “reorient social sciences better address sustainability issues”. A sample conservation psychology project might be to look for opportunities to test models and develop new approaches. Lastly, networking efforts are essential to include different cultures and perspectives. Assorted viewpoints will “lead to a richer vocabulary for describing the human relationship to nature”.

The Two Outcomes of Conservation Psychology Research

Conservation Psychology aims to provide an understanding of how to make the environment sustainable for humans and other living things. There has been researching conducted to discover means for the prevention or delay of environmental deterioration. Apart from the lenses of Psychology, other designs and approaches of research can support the end goal of environmental sustainability.

Carol Saunders (2003) proposed two broad outcome categories as a way to formulate questions. According to her, organizing research areas in Conservation Psychology is according to these two broad outcome areas:

  • how humans behave towards nature (with the goal of creating durable behavior change at multiple levels and sustainable relationships), and/or
  • how humans care about/value nature (with the goal of creating harmonious relationships and an environmental ethic)

Within these outcome areas, research questions may vary with regards to the individual or group level. To obtain these outcome categories, Saunders suggested three approaches: theoretical, applied and evaluative.

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Conservation Behavior

Basically, a sustainable environment can be achieved through the rejection of negative behaviors that harm the environment. We can adopt environmental-friendly practices, including but not limited to, recycling, waste segregation, water conservation, energy conservation, and using CFC-free products. These are called conservation behavior.

According to Saltz and Berger-Tal, conservation behavior “assists the investigation of species endangerment associated with managing animals impacted by anthropogenic activities”. It is still associated with how human behavior can directly affect the sustainability of the natural environment.

Understanding the Psychology of Behavior Change

There have been numerous studies to discuss how individuals and groups can achieve conservation behavior. For Kurz (2002), there are four psychological rational approaches to environmentally sustainable behavior: rational economic models, social-dilemmas models, attitude models and models based on behavior modification and learning theory.

There have also been approaches that attempted to look at the relationships between attitudes, beliefs, values, knowledge, and behaviors, among others.

Developing Behavior Change Strategies and Measuring Success

According to Saunders (2003), research areas related to conservation behavior will focus on “how to identify the most appropriate strategies for producing environmental behavior change” and “how to measure the success of those applications with respect to the CP mission”.

There have been various researchers who attempted to identify behavioral change strategies based on approaches derived from the literature.

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Caring About/Valuing Nature

This outcome category refers to the harmonious relationship of individuals and groups with nature. “It includes concerns about the quality of life for humans and other species, as well as the quality of the human-nature relationship itself.”

Understanding the Psychology of Caring About Nature

The theoretical approaches for understanding the relationship between humans and nature need to extract (1) the effects of experiences of humans with the natural environment (2) their concept of “care for nature” (3) humans’ means of taking care of animals and nature and (4) their environmental values.

Developing Strategies to Foster Caring, Shape Values, and Measure Success

According to Saunders, applied research can be used to (1) “identify the most promising strategies for fostering ways of caring about nature” (2) “find ways to reframe debates and strategically communicate to the existing values that people have” (3) “identify the most promising strategies for shifting the societal discourse about human-nature relationships” and (4) “measure the success of these applications with respect to the CP mission”.

Understanding Conservation Behavior Through The Lens of Psychology

The issues surrounding the natural environment can be understood in various approaches. In the lens of Conservation Psychology, the environmental problems can be mitigated through the use of psychological principles.

Conservation Psychology suggests that the human behavior is very vital in changing the current scenario of the environment. According to Richard Osbaldiston (2013), “individuals have to change their behavior”.

Osbaldiston believes that the application of psychological principles “can influence individual behavior related to environmental issues”. He uses two approaches to collect the data needed for the body of research – experimental and theoretical.

Let us know more about the two approaches presented by Osbaldiston.

Experimental Approach

According to Osbaldiston (2013), experimental designs are used to promote conservation behaviors. The approach “compares a treatment or intervention against a control group to test the effectiveness of the treatment at promoting behaviors”.

He identified in his meta-analysis ten treatments or interventions to promote conservation behaviors. The following are as follows:

  • Making it easy (changing circumstances to make the behavior more convenient)
  • Using prompts (reminders to call attention to when or where it is appropriate to perform the behavior
  • Providing justifications (rational reasons as to why the behavior should be performed)
  • Providing instructions (how to perform the behavior)
  • Providing feedback (about the extent to which a person has performed the desired behavior)
  • Providing rewards (incentives for performing desired behavior)
  • Social modeling (passing information from one group to the other through demonstration)
  • Utilizing cognitive dissonance (access pre-existing attitudes or beliefs that are consistent with the desired behavior)
  • Requiring commitment (dedication in performing the behavior)
  • Setting goals (performance of the desired behavior)

Despite the design resulting in environmental impact, the research on conservation behavior focused greatly on “just a small set of behaviors”. The most studied behavior is recycling, followed by energy conservation; water conservation; and gasoline conservation.

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Theoretical Approach

On the other hand, theoretical research used surveys to “assess how various psychological constructs are related to conservation behaviors.” Basically, this approach assesses a variety of underlying psychological constructs including attitudes, knowledge, motives, values, and norms, which are hypothesized to influence conservation behavior.

Through the theoretical research, there have been dozens of theories that have been proposed “to explain why people engage in conservation behavior”. However, only six theories were reviewed and were widely used to represent Conservation Psychology.

The frequently used theory in conservation psychology research was the Theory of Planned Behavior by IcekAjzen (1991). The theory suggests that “a person’s behavior is determined by his/her intention to perform the behavior and that this intention is, in turn, a function of his/her attitude toward the behavior and his/her subjective norm.” Bamberg and Moser used this theory to study pro-environmental behavior.

The greatest strength of the theoretical approach is that it allows researchers to use different predictor variables. However, there are differences in how these variables are being defined. They have varied views on standard concepts such as attitudes, skills, values, norms, beliefs, and knowledge. Further, the theoretical approach does not actually observe conservation behavior, rather, most of them are based on self-report measures.”

Conservation Psychology: A Human’s Response to Earth’s Destruction

Since Earth has entered modernization, the world gradually deteriorates – extinction of species, global warming, and destruction of nature.

Humans are eyed to be the greatest contributors of environmental deterioration. According to Forbes, “in estimated one billion years, the concentration of carbon-dioxide in earth’s atmosphere will be too low to sustain plants” which will also lead to lack of the source of food for animals and humans.

Scientists believe that humans can still counter the possibility of Earth coming to an end. Conservation is the key way to prevent the world’s extinction.

Social sciences can play a vital role in studying how to conserve Earth. Thus, the birth of a new field in science called “Conservation Psychology”.

Let us get to know what Conservation Psychology by dissecting its essential variables.

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Psychology is being defined by Simply Psychology as the “scientific study of the mind and behavior”. It studies various disciplines and fields including human development, social behavior, and cognitive processes, among others. According to Myers (2003), Psychology involves human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In short, we can say that psychology is all about “mind” and “behavior”.


Britannica defines “conservation” as the “protection of things found in nature” including water, soil, minerals, wildlife, forests and all of Earth’s natural resources. They also suggested that the people who involve in conservation “try to preserve natural resources so they will still be around in the future”. It is also an act of keeping the environment clean and healthy.

Human Behavior

Human behavior refers to the “the potential and expressed capacity for physical, mental, and social activity during the phases of human life” (Britannica). However, in the view of social psychologist Susan Clayton, human behavior can be related to the natural environment. According to her, human behavior refers to “how we reproduce, consume, and utilize geographical territory”. She also added that our behavior contributed to the “global climate change, desertification, pollution, and the loss of biodiversity”. But, our behavior too can “help mitigate and adapt to these problems”.

Natural Environment

Apparently, natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things. It involves the interaction of species, climate, weather and all natural resources that influence human survival and economic activity. Now, our natural environment faces a lot of issues, including climate change and global warming.

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Now, What Is Conservation Psychology?

According to Saunders (2003), Conservation Psychology is the “scientific study of the reciprocal relationships between humans and the rest of nature, with a particular focus on how to encourage conservation of the natural world”. Through its use of psychological principles, theories and methods, we can be able to “understand and solve issues related to human aspects of conservation”.

According to Clayton (2009), this new field of science aims to “integrate and publicize the psychological theory and research that are relevant to understanding and promoting the connections between humans and the natural world”.

In addition, Saunders (2003) defined Conservation Psychology as the “actual network of researchers and practitioners who work together to understand and promote a sustainable and harmonious relationship between people and the natural environment.”

Thus, Conservation Psychology aims to study the human behavior, as a key factor in the conservation of the natural environment.