Contextual influences on sustainable behavior

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


Studies of Proenvironmental behavior (PEB) commonly take a person-centered approach, assuming that the primary determinants of behavior are a person's attributes. Hence, PEB studies typically measure attitudes, values, intentions, knowledge, altruism, environmentalism, etc. - all of which reside in the individual and all of which are posited to cause pro/anti-environmental behavior. Although the empirical base is substantial, person-factors often do not predict behavior well and the posited close relationship between intention and behavior is rarely demonstrated. One reason for this is that part of the "causal" story is missing - the causal role played by context (setting/situation). Hence, the present chapter focuses on various contexts that present to-be-solved adaptive problems and that display affordances, cues, and stimuli that guide adaptive behavior. The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) represented the "person-factor" approach; however, we suspected the TPB in isolation would not sufficiently explain behavioral choices. In our study, instead of measuring behavioral intention in a contextual vacuum, we presented each behavioral choice within the context of written multidimensional vignettes. Each context consisted of physical settings as well as theoretically driven dimensions of social situations. We systematically varied the social dimensions to "cue" specific adaptive problems, on the assumption that person-by-context relationships provide more stable and externally valid predictions of PEB than intentionality alone. Settings accounted for a significant proportion of variance in both pro- and anti-environmental behavior. Traditional theory, such as TPB, did not predict context-specific behavior; however, components of the theory did predict behavior in the aggregate. We conclude that attending to the context in which environmental behavior occurs provides a better basis for predicting, understanding, and affecting changes in PEB.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPsychological Approaches to Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationCurrent Trends in Theory, Research and Applications
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)9781608763566
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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