Factors Contributing to Pro Environmental Behaviors

There are many theories in Conservation Psychology that seeks to explain the factors that influence or determine human pro environmental behavior. In this website, we will be focusing on the model proposed by Clayton and Myers.

Factors Influencing Behavior

Source: Conservation Psychology: Understanding and promoting human care for nature

As can be seen from the figure above, all the factors that influence individual pro environmental behavior can be classified into external (in the environment) and internal (within the individual) factors.

External Factors


Affordance is what is allowed or enabled by the physical or social environment that an individual is in (Clayton & Myers, 2009). The concept of affordance influencing behavior can be more clearly illustrated with this example: When there is no garbage cans around, littering is more likely.When the environment does not allow for people to properly dispose their litter, people will litter the environment.

When translated into pro environmental behavior, if pro environmental alternatives or solutions are not enabled in a physical or social environment, people are more likely to not undertake pro environmental behaviors.

Affordances is one of the strongest determinant of behavior (Clayton & Myers, 2009).

Social Norms

Social norms will dictate if people undertake pro environmental behaviors or not. This can be demonstrated by a study done by Nolan et al. (2008). In a California town, residents were shown two types of environmental messages. The first type contained information about environmental protection, social responsibility and self interest. The second type contained information of the actual energy use of a regular homemaker. It was found that the second type of message was more useful in reducing the usage of energy (Nolan et al., 2008).

Clearly, when people are aware that everyone is doing something, they would be more inclined to follow suit, making social norms a strong influence on behavior.

Reinforcement Contingencies 

Rewards encourage behavior while punishment discourages behavior. It seems fairly straightforward how reinforcement contingencies can influence behavior. More importantly, research has shown that rewards are generally more effective than punishment. Punishment, in the long run, unlike rewards, is not beneficial to the punished individual and the punishing agency as punishment generates the tendency to escape or retaliate and disabling anxieties (Skinner, 1953).

All these must be taken note of when we want to influence pro environmental behavior in individuals.


Prompts are reminders to people that a particular behavior is necessary or required (Clayton & Myers, 2009).


Source: http://greencafenetwork.org/contest/details/

Source: http://greencafenetwork.org/contest/details/

For prompts to be useful, they must be located physically close to the behavior that needs to be prompt. So, the prompt which asks people to turn off the lights should ideally be located near the switch.

Also, prompts cannot come off as obvious attempts to control behavior for people may purposely ignore it and sometimes engage in behaviors that oppose the prompt so as to demonstrate their autonomy (Brehm, 1966).


Source: http://www.bloggingehow.com/2011/07/add-custom-floatingfixed-lightbox-style.html

People require feedbacks to monitor and know if their behaviors have resulted in any effect. They have to know if they were successful in performing the behavior. Sometimes, the feedback serves as a reward for people to continue their current behavior.


Source: http://smallbiztrends.com/2011/01/better-business-goals-2011.html

Goals allow people to know what kind of change is desirable and required. Goals often work together with feedback to provide information and motivation for people to change behaviors.

Internal Factors

Internal factors are harder to manipulate as compared to external factors.


Knowledge is important in influencing people’s pro environmental behavior. Without knowledge, people are not provided a cause on which they can base their pro environmental efforts on. As such, people should be informed about the kind of threats faced by the environment. Knowledge has been found to be a rather reliable predictor of environmental behavior and hence can be said to be a strong determinant of behavior (Hines et al., 1987).

It is crucial, however, to not just educate people about the threats the environment faces. We also have to inform people about what they can do for the environment. If individuals are only faced with uncomfortable information about environmental threats, but are not told what they can do about it, they will adopt Emotion Focused Coping. This means that individuals will choose to avoid thinking about the threats or discount the severity of the threats so that they can cope with the anxiety and fear that were generated (Rippetoe & Rogers, 1987).

Therefore, while knowledge is a strong influence on behavior, it should be carefully transferred to individuals.


Attitudes are important when it comes to influencing pro environmental behavior. Several studies have found that Environmental Attitudes have a positive effect on ecological behavior and ecological behavior is defined as behavior here refers to actions that contribute to the preservation and/or conservation of the environment (Diekmann & Preisendörfer, 1998; Hines, Hungerford, & Tomera, 1987; Kaiser, Wölfing, & Fuhler, 1999; Schultz, 2001; Theodori & Luloff, 2002).

The various factors influencing Environmental Attitudes are explored in the section of Conservation Psychology theories.


Values are individuals’ general preferences for end states or ways of acting. They underlie more specific attitudes and behavior and hence are a strong determinant of pro environmental behavior. There are many models which seek to explain the bases on which people value nature. Kellert came up with nine basic values types. These basic value types, their definition and functions are illustrated in the table below:


Kellert’s Typology of Human Values for Nature. Kellert (1993, 1996)



Source: http://thelastpageblog.com/2012/03/13/where-to-find-a-story-emotion/

Emotions is an important factor influencing pro environmental behavior as it drives tangible behavior. For instance, Kals and Ittner (2003) found that positive emotions like love for nature and negative emotions like anger relate to people’s willingness to commit to pro environmental behaviors like installing water saving devices (a technology choice) in their homes.


Self efficacy has to do with a person’s belief that he or she has the capability to successfully complete an action (Bandura, 1977). Self efficacy is an important variable influencing pro environmental behavior. Research has shown that perceived efficacy has a stronger effect than knowledge or attitude when it comes to predicting behavior (Hines et al., 1987).

People’s perceived efficacy can be changed. When we provide individuals with clear and instructional sets of knowledge regarding what they can do to protect and conserve the environment, we can increase their perceived efficacy in bringing about a sustainable environment (Geller, 1995; Eigner & Schmuck, 2002).


In order for individuals to act and undertake pro environmental behavior, they need to feel a personal sense of responsibility towards the environmental threats and issues. One of the greatest barriers in encouraging pro environmental behaviors in individuals is diffusion of responsibility. Diffusion of responsibility is the sense that someone else will do something about the problem or issue.

A study by Kaiser and Shimoda (1999) showed that the feeling of personal responsibility for addressing pollution was associated with pro environmental behavior.

Now that we have explored all factors influencing pro environmental behavior, let’s apply this knowledge together with our knowledge of Environmental Attitudes onto Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Using all these factors, we can try and understand the type of Environmental Attitudes each country have and the reasons for the success and failure behind their environmental practices.