Theories of Conservation Psychology

Following are a few concepts that give us an insight to how people’s attitudes are formed

  • A person’s Environmental attitudes are influences by-
  1. Affluence- Studies have found that people who are financially well off tend to foster more environmentally friendly behaviors. But this result should not be taken as a direct relation that rich care for the environment more than the poor. This simply shows that the rich have better chances to afford expensive equipment that is more environmental friendly, the poor on the other hand may have environmental friendly attitudes but may not have the resources to convert these attitudes into behaviors.
  2. Post-materialist attitudes- Refers to shift from persuasion of economic growth and security to achieving greater quality of life, which includes a greater effort towards protecting the environment
  3. Stability- Refers to the idea that people tend to be more concerned about their actions towards the environment when other things are constant .i.e. when they not faced with stressful situations like wars, epidemic etc.
  4. Level of development of a country- The level of development of a country also is an important indicator of a person’s environmental attitudes. This is because the more a country is developed the more it will invest in the education of its people, and the more the people are educated the more sensitive they are to environmental issues.
  5. Religion- Considerable evidence also suggests that a person’s environmental attitudes and behaviors are shaped by what their religious beliefs prescribe and proscribe
  6. Environmental contact- Studies have evidenced that those individuals who have greater positive environmental contact, tend to grow up to be more conscious about the impact their behavior has on the environment. In general they consider the environment to be an extension of their identity.


  • Evolutionary Brain: According to Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich our  inability to react to climate change in the most effective way can be due to are evolutionary brains which are designed to respond to quick and immediate dangers rather than slow and gradual ones like climate change.


  • Tragedy of the commons: The idea of tragedy of the commons was explained by Garett Hardin. He said that when a common pool resource is in question, every individual will want to use as much as of the resource as possible because every unit of the resource is a unit gained for another individual. This is also the case with environment protection, people think that environmental friendly steps by reducing the goods that they use will have no effect as they do not know if others will follow suit. Hence people are hesitant to bear such a cost when they see it as another’s gain rather than a step towards protecting the environment. Moreover any such cost is an externality for them and it means reduced gain on every unit of the resource they use.


  • Theory Of Planned Action: This theory states that even if the person has the right attitudes regarding they environment, they are most likely to act on them when these attitudes are in congruence with the societal norms and when the individual feels that they have some control over the situation. If these two are not met having right attitudes does mean that it will convert to the right behaviors.


  • Defensive Thinking: When people see incongruence between their ideal self and actual self, they tend to justify their behavior as this helps to reduce the dissonance that occurs due to a mismatch between their ideal and actual self. For example when people are made to realize that their energy consumption is greater than their neighbors, it often seen that is kind of information lead to great amount of dissonance and people go to great lengths to justify their higher energy consumption.


  • Availability heuristic: This idea states that people tend to be concerned about a problem based on the ease with which they can about the negative impacts of that problem. This is why people find it difficult to understand some of the negative impacts of climate change as climate change as these consequences have never occurred in the past and hence is hard to think of such things happening.


  • Temporal discounting: This means that people are often more concerned with the problems they face today rather than those they will have in the future.


  • Expanding Circle:  According to Peter Singer humans first and foremost care for themselves then for their family, their region, their nation and so on.  Hence fostering concern for one’s environment means adding another element in their list of concerns, which means more effort on the part of the individual. He gave the analogy of concentric circles to explain his idea.



  • Framing: Another factor important in shaping one’s attitude is the way the information is presented to the person, it has been evidenced that people are more affected by the losses that they incur than by an equal amount of gain. Hence if information is presented in terms of the losses the person may incur, it is likely