Behavioral Decision Research in Environmental Policy

While climate change may be one of the most daunting and significant crises of this century, the threat is not yet perceived as an urgent one by many. Meanwhile, the cost of recommended actions to address climate change are immediate and very concrete, leading people to want to shy away from acting. Behavioral decision research can help us understand both the challenges in altering the status quo, as well as the best approaches for effecting change on individual and societal levels.

Psychology, economics, and other social sciences play an important role in the study of decision-making related to the environment, ranging from individual choices to broader collective attitudes and behaviors. While a number of models regarding human behavior rely on assumptions about rational choice, there is a broader range of factors that influence people to act in different ways (social/cultural norms, religious beliefs, hopes and fears, differing risk tolerance, etc.). Understanding the full range of these motivations and processes is vital to developing effective policies.

Behavioral research can help us predict human action and choices in the face of uncertainty and understand how to motivate more sustainable outcomes in resource utilization, conservation, or other results of climate adaptation decisions. It may help us identify the most promising strategies for effecting change, such as using social influence, making sustainable choices the default options, or reframing messaging to use language that is more appealing or less polarizing. Our researchers are also studying the process of scientific assessment, the differences between the public’s understanding of environmental challenges compared to scientific understanding, and strategies for more effectively communicating scientific research to inform policy.

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Maya Chung
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Melissa Lane
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