Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
New research from the Journal of Environmental Psychology suggests that climate change skeptics are more likely to engage in individual-level, pro-environmental, behavior than are climate change supporters. By contrast, the latter are more likely to advocate for government-based solutions while engaging in little pro-environmental behavior themselves. While skeptics were more eco-friendly, they also shunned government involvement on climate.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Cornell University, who followed 600 Americans for one year. Across the year, participants regularly answered questions regarding their climate change beliefs, and self-reported their own pro-environmental behavior. Examples of the latter include using reusable bags, taking public transportation, and the like.
Tom Jacobs, from Pacific Standard, suggests “moral licensing” could be at play in the lack of behavior on the part of climate change supporters. In his words, “if you’ve pledged some money to Greenpeace, you feel entitled to enjoying the convenience of a plastic bag.” Moral licensing is a type of psychological balancing act between our moral and immoral behaviors. Business Insider describes it this way – “we may tell ourselves that it’s okay we didn’t do any recycling this week, because we usually do. Or that it’s fine to have that second helping of cake because we went on a run yesterday.”
In the context of the present study, behavior analysts might see the licensing phenomena as a type of verbal self-negotiation that transforms the stimulus functions of objects in our immediate environment toward impulsive action. Moral licensing is a way to justify our impulses to act in ways that are immediately convenient for us, but may harm the environment over the long-term if large numbers of people are engaged in similar types of behavior.
Such deferred effects based on large numbers of people engaged in a particular practice is known as a macrocontingeny, and the associated behavior contributing to the deferred effect is known as macrobehavior. To read more about the macrocontingency, check out our article The 11 Nations of Macrobehavior. For more on impulsivity, check out our overview of the JEAB special issue on delay discounting here.
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org. bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series. Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar. He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues. Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org