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Social Norms Influence People’s Behavior Toward Climate Protection Drives

A new study reports that people contribute only very little to climate protection since they tend to underestimate the willingness of others to contribute.

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The main result of this new study by behavioral economists Peter Andre, Teodora Boneva, Felix Chopra, and Armin Falk, members of the Cluster of Excellence ECONtribute at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne, has been reported in an “ECONtribute Discussion Paper.”

The scientists demonstrated that the information related to social norms and behaviors helps increase the willingness to contribute to climate protection. Moreover, the research illustrates the extent to which moral values and economic preferences are decisive for the attitudes of each individual toward climate protection. The findings have been achieved from a detailed survey experimented in the United States.

Proportion of Climate Protection Supporters Significantly Underestimated

About 8,000 adults in the United States were representatively chosen to contribute to the survey, with a reward of $450. Before receiving the reward, they were asked to denote how much would they spend out of this reward toward climate protection if at all they happen to win. With the given sum, they could possibly offset the yearly CO2 emissions of an average American.

Depending on the amounts provided, researchers were able to quantify the extent to which people were ready to support the action against climate change at their expense.

On average, the respondents agreed to contribute half of the reward toward climate protection. Also, they were requested to evaluate the ratio of their compatriots who were actively involved in climate protection or think of the action against climate change to be essential, as per the surveys.

The respondents undervalued the real proportion of people who were actively involved in climate change protection (62%) and those in support of climate protection (79%).

It is to be noted that if the participants had an indication of the figures prior to making their decision, their readiness to donate was greater by 5% or 6%. The effect is higher specifically among people who denied climate change or are at least uncertain about it.

Women Donate More than Men on Average

On average, women tend to contribute $17 more than men for climate protection drives. Democrats donate $45 more compared to the Republicans. While the willingness to donate is greater in household incomes, it decreases for Republicans with higher educational qualifications.

Personality trait analysis reveals that patience and the intention to contribute to the welfare of others would have a positive impact on the willingness of people to safeguard the climate.

Participants whose moral values commonly apply to all people are more interested in contributing compared to those who feel more committed to their group.

Climate protection is a matter of cooperation. But people tend to be cooperative to a certain extent only: If you cooperate, I’ll cooperate. That’s why it’s especially important to uncover and correct misconceptions about others’ willingness to cooperate in the fight against climate change.

Armin Falk, Professor, ECONtribute, University of Bonn

Professor Falk is also the director of the briq Institute on Behavior & Inequality.

According to Professor Falks, for behavioral changes and acceptance of climate policy measures to be achieved, climate protection must be viewed as a social norm. The scientists feel that an extensive information campaign could help achieve a self-reinforcing effect.

The study was financially supported by the Cluster of Excellence “ECONtribute” of the Universities of Cologne and Bonn, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of the Excellence Strategy of the German federal and State Governments, the Collaborative Research Center Transregio 224 EPoS of the Universities of Bonn and Mannheim, and the briq Institute on Behavior & Inequality.


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