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Can environmentally friendly behavior change with social context?

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

How might common pro-environmental behaviors (e.g., recycling, use of public transport, buying organic food, water conservation) we see in everyday life speak to how they are formed or encouraged?

In a recent study1,2 from Environment and Behavior (subscription required), the authors noted that most studies of environmental behavior have historically analyzed pro-environmental behaviors  as an outcome of various causal attributes of individuals (e.g., political ideology, values, attitudes, and lifestyles).

What’s lacking, these authors argue, is an evaluation of the social context in which these pro-environmental behaviors take place and whether this context also plays a role.  For example, some social incentives for encouraging public transportation use (such as free tickets, low costs, effective public transportation planning, convenience, or public acceptance) can make a person much more likely to use public transportation in one city (e.g., New York) relative to another (e.g., Atlanta).

Thus, this team sought to identify the extent to which environmentally friendly behavior is heterogeneous between individuals and whether people engage in different environmentally friendly behaviors in different social contexts.    They used a survey to assess 20 behaviors as a function of attitudes, political orientation, and sociodemographic information. To evaluate social context, they examined how responses varied between home or while on vacation.

What did they find?

(more…)

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Defining the good life in Baltimore

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

baltimore

Defining and describing what constitutes “the good life” for individuals and communities has been a vexing challenge for social scholars…

So begins a recent article1,2 in Environment and Behavior (subscription required)

…[T]he term “life satisfaction”, which comes from the psychological literature, refers to the cognitive evaluation of one’s happiness or subjective wellbeing and involves comparing the fulfillment of individual needs, goals, and aspirations to a meaningful standard.

One unique aspect of this study was that the team used surveys to assess people’s life satisfaction at two different scales: (1) their own lives and (2) their neighborhoods.

Bottom line:

  • Income and home ownership mattered more to individual satisfaction compared to satisfaction with neighborhoods.
  • In contrast, neighborhood satisfaction was more strongly correlated with social capital (shared knowledge, norms, rules, and networks that facilitate collective experience) and satisfaction with the natural environment in the neighborhood.
  • These results corroborate a large body of prior research indicating that wealth alone is not the only explanation for life satisfaction–our communities and environments matter as well.
  • Given that more people now live in urban environments than at any point in human history, this speaks to the need for (re)developing cities to promote green spaces and social networks.

1Vemuri, A., et al. (2009) A Tale of Two Scales: Evaluating the Relationship Among Life Satisfaction, Social Capital, Income, and the Natural Environment at Individual and Neighborhood Levels in Metropolitan Baltimore. Environment and Behavior, (Online First edition).

2Bowdoin people can link to the article here.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinl8888/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Posted in race and class, social science, urban | No Comments »

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