Behavioral Research and Environmental Policy

People’s responses to existing or proposed technologies or energy and environmental policies are based on many factors. Our researchers explore the full range of human goals and processes that shape responses to environmental change and energy technology transitions with the objective of designing choices that facilitate responses with more beneficial environmental impacts.

Environmental Motivations for Energy Efficiency Investments

Reducing energy use has multiple benefits for households, including saving money on utility bills and reducing household contribution to climate change. Although research has documented that emphasizing environmental motivations can influence small, repeated energy conservation behaviors, most research on large energy efficiency investments focuses on financial motivations. Existing energy saving policy reflects this financial focus, with most U.S. energy saving programs using financial incentives to motivate participation. The influence of environmental motivations on large energy efficiency investments remains largely unexplored.

The first phase of this project examined how financial and environmental motivations interact to influence large energy efficiency investment decisions, and how political affiliation moderates this effect. Our researchers have found that, overall, messages that include environmental as well as financial benefits lead to higher investment likelihood than financial benefits alone. Environmental benefits are effective when aligned with participants’ political affiliation: climate change messages increase liberals’ likelihood, and stewardship/independence messages increase conservatives’ likelihood. Importantly, we failed to find evidence that motivation-misaligned messages (showing climate change to political conservatives) decreased investment likelihood.

The second phase of this project explores the range of non-financial motivations that motivate energy saving behaviors across the political spectrum. Our researchers examine what motivations are the most correlated with existing energy saving behaviors and future interest, and the variance in motivations across individuals. The third phase of this study will replicate these findings in the field. This work has implications for the messages that energy saving policies use to motivate behavior change.

Researcher: Prof. Elke Weber

Understanding Global Concern and Action on Climate Change

Concern about climate change varies substantially from one person to another, from one country to another, and sometimes from one day to the next. What causes concern about climate change to rally or dissipate in humans? How much of an effect does unusual and extreme weather have? What about coverage of climate change in the news?

In this project our researchers are shedding light on the drivers of concern and action on climate change by answering questions such as these. They use large-scale records of discussions about climate change on social media as well as international survey data to measure concern about climate change across time and space. They pair these measurements with data on potential influencers of climate concern. For example, they are analyzing records of extreme weather events and massive databases of global news coverage to quantify the effects of these events and reporting on concern about climate change.

By learning more about what influences public attitudes towards climate change, we can optimize climate-related policies, communications, and long-term mitigation strategies.

Researcher: Prof. Elke Weber

Models of Human Behavior (MoHuB) 2.0

While the importance of accounting for the complexity of human behavior is increasingly recognized, its integration into formal models is challenging because many of the theories are scattered across the social sciences, cover only a certain aspect of decision-making, vary in their degree of formalization, and do not specify causal mechanisms.

Our researchers are working to develop a tool and common language for describing, comparing and communicating a more comprehensive set of theories of human judgment and choice that will be crucial for modeling various empirically observed behaviors that cannot be captured by standard economic models.

In collaboration with Dr. Maja Schlüter and colleagues from the Stockholm Resilience Center, our researchers are extending Schlüter’s 2017 Ecological Economics paper, which provides a framework for the study of human agents and their social, physical, and biological environments in natural resource management (NRM) contexts that extends beyond the rational actor model.

Researcher: Prof. Elke Weber


See more related publications on Prof. Elke Weber's Research Website.