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Choosing Green: Explaining Motivations Across Different Environmental Behaviors


In this dissertation, I ask a series of questions regarding why people perform different environmental behaviors and how environmental communication can influence individuals’ actions and opinions. The first chapter uses a broader range of basic values to explain why people participate in many types of political action. Using a nationally representative sample of US adults, I identify several patterns connecting political actions to individuals’ values. One central value that explains many political actions is concern for others (i.e. self-transcendence); I find that people who prioritize this value are more likely to engage in nearly all types of political behavior evaluated, but are no more likely to vote. People who value traditional social norms (i.e. conservation) are more likely to vote, but are less likely to participate in other ways. This indicates a major distinction between voting and other types of participation like contacting elected officials, attending demonstrations, and others. Two other central values, concern for one’s own well-being and pursuit of excitement, do not consistently influence political participation.

In chapter two, I begin by evaluating the structure and psychological drivers of different types of behaviors specifically related to environmental protection. To do so, I collected a large (N=1077) sample of Californians via Qualtrics that was representative of the California population in terms of income, education, and party identification. Whereas existing literature suggests three categories of environmental behavior, my survey analysis shows the presence of as many as six distinct types of common environmental behaviors. These behavioral types include household environmental conservation, green consumer behaviors, support for environmental policies, communications to promote environmental policies, involvement with environmental advocacy organizations, and attendance at environmental rallies. After establishing statistical and theoretical distinctions between these types of environmental behavior, I show that individual’s values influence which behaviors people engage in, and that collectively values exert the largest influence on relatively low-cost, non-activist environmental behaviors.

In the third chapter, I apply lessons from chapters 1 and 2 to study the influence different messages can have on public support for an environmental management project. To do so, I fielded a survey experiment (N=1077) in which messages describing a proposed invasive species management project differed both based on whether their primary impacts would be to provide ecological or economic benefits, and differed based on whether those benefits were framed as providing future gains or preventing future losses. I found that ecological- and loss-framed messages were more effective than either economic- or gain-framed messages when communicating the value of invasive species management. The results suggests that communicating how policies influence people (i.e. via economic co-benefits) may not be the most effective strategy in all cases.

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