Social norms influence people’s behavior towards climate protection campaigns

A new study reports that people contribute very little to climate protection because they tend to underestimate the willingness of others to contribute.

Symbolic image – climate change. Image credit:

The main result of this new study by behavioral economists Peter Andre, Teodora Boneva, Felix Chopra and Armin Falk, members of the ECONtribute cluster of excellence at the universities of Bonn and Cologne, has been reported in an “ECONtribute Discussion Paper”.

Scientists have shown that information on social norms and behavior helps to increase the willingness to contribute to climate protection. In addition, research illustrates how moral values ​​and economic preferences are crucial to individual attitudes towards climate protection. The results were obtained from a detailed survey experimented in the United States.

Proportion of supporters of climate protection largely underestimated

Approximately 8,000 adults in the United States were representatively chosen to contribute to the survey, with a reward of $ 450. Before receiving the award, they were asked to indicate how much of this award they would spend on climate protection if they won. With the given sum, they could possibly offset the annual CO2 emissions of an average American.

Based on the amounts awarded, the researchers were able to quantify the extent to which people were prepared to support climate change action at their expense.

On average, respondents agreed to contribute half the reward to climate protection. In addition, they were asked to rate the ratio of their compatriots who were actively involved in climate protection or believe action against climate change is essential, according to surveys.

Respondents underestimated the actual proportion of people actively involved in climate change protection (62%) and those supporting climate protection (79%).

Note that if participants had an indication of the numbers before making their decision, their willingness to give was 5% or 6% higher. The effect is higher especially in people who have denied climate change or are at least uncertain about it.

Women donate more than men on average

On average, women tend to contribute $ 17 more than men to climate protection campaigns. Democrats give $ 45 more than Republicans. While the willingness to donate is greater in household income, it decreases for Republicans with a higher degree.

Analysis of personality traits reveals that patience and the intention to contribute to the well-being of others would have a positive impact on people’s willingness to save the climate.

Participants whose moral values ​​generally apply to everyone are more interested in contributing than those who feel more engaged in their group.

Climate protection is a matter of cooperation. But people tend to be cooperative to a certain extent only: if you cooperate, I will cooperate. This is why it is especially important to uncover and correct misconceptions about the willingness of others to cooperate in the fight against climate change..

Armin Falk, professor, ECONtribute, University of Bonn

Professor Falk is also Director of the Briq Institute on Behavior & Inequality.

According to Professor Falks, for behavioral changes and acceptance of climate policy measures to be achieved, climate protection must be seen as a social norm. Scientists believe that a large information campaign could help achieve a self-reinforcing effect.

The study was funded by the “ECONtribute” pole of excellence of the universities of Cologne and Bonn, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of the excellence strategy of the German federal and state governments , the Transregio 224 EPoS Collaborative Research Center of the Universities of Bonn and Mannheim, and the briq Institute on Behavior & Inequality.


About Marjorie C. Hudson

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