Exploring the adoption, maintenance, and transmission of pro-environmental behaviour among moralised practice group members and non-members

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Psychology


Climate Change is often characterised as a 'collective action' problem, resolvable only through worldwide behavioural change and political mobilization. Transport, diet and material consumption are widely identified as crucial sites for environmental behaviour change. However, due to being inextricably woven into daily life, such changes require large sacrifices that often don't provide immediate, tangible outcomes for the individual. Yet many do people adapt their daily behaviour drastically in light of moral sensitivity to environmental concerns. These individuals act in the minority and are often subject to social stigma surrounding their daily practices. Partly as a result of their minority and potentially stigmatised status, they come to form identities surrounding their lifestyle changes, such as "vegan", or "cyclist", for which I propose the term "environmental moralised practice-based identities" (EMPIs).

While EMPIs currently have minority status, their impact on C02 emissions is large. If adopted en masse, behaviours linked to EMPIs could greatly reduce C02 emissions globally in domains which, due to their personal nature, are often reluctant targets for policy interventions. However, research into these identities currently resides within topic and disciplinary silos. Examining such environmental identities in insolation ignores the potential motivational and behavioural synergies of differing EMPIs. Psychological Social Identity Theories ignore important geospatial, political and demographic impacts on EMPI provocation and formation. Contrastingly, while Social Practice Theories in sociology acknowledge the importance of infrastructure in enacting identity, they ignore social-psychological intergroup processes of belonging and conflict.

The limits of these existing theories, and the necessity for societal reduction in C02 emissions, presents an opportunity for an interdisciplinary mixed-methods research program that examines EMPIs and their impact on the attitudes and behaviours of those around them. This PhD will contribute to such a program in two key ways via an international, interdisciplinary, and mixed-methods collaboration.

Firstly, I will develop a stage-model of EMPI development, synthesising sociological, psychological and geographical factors driving identity provocation, development and maintenance. I will also explore how EMPI development is related to personality traits, demographic factors and pro-environmental behaviour. Cross-domain sensitivity of EMPIs to other pro-environmental behaviours will also be examined.

Secondly, I will explore the societal impact and lifecycle of EMPIs on non-identified individuals. While existing research in marketing suggests that individuals who adopt an innovation early have an overall positive impact on the uptake of those around them, it is uncertain whether this effect holds for the more moralised behaviours I propose to investigate. Existing research and popular opinion suggest that perceived gatekeeping and minimal moral standards offered by EMPI groups might actually discourage non-identified individuals from behaving in pro-environmental ways. I will explore these dynamics in the context of EMPI labelling of products on product purchase in different cultural contexts and I will also examine the role of intergroup contact in transmission of EMPIs over time, in a longitudinal natural experiment of EMPI social networks at university.

This research proposal incorporates mixed-method, interdisciplinary and intersectional perspectives to offer a new understanding of the importance of EMPIs for influencing pro-environmental behaviour change among and between social networks. It holds the potential to generate insights that stand to fundamentally challenge the ways in which policy makers conceptualise and utilise personal and social identities in their attempts to encourage pro-environmental behaviour.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2097550 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2018 31/12/2022 Annayah Miranda Prosser