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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Inclusion of the environment in the self: Linking values to pro-environmental behaviors

  • Author(s): Ehret, Phillip John
  • Advisor(s): Sherman, David
  • et al.

Personal values are theorized to be fundamental drivers of individuals’ behavior. However, the empirical work investigating the value-behavior relationship is relatively limited and often does not consider how values relate to self-concepts (e.g., individuals’ different life roles). A more systematic examination of how values relate to the self may provide new insights on the value-behavior relationship, specifically because values which are included in the self-concept may predict large categories of behaviors, such as pro-environmental behaviors, more than values not included in the self-concept. The first part of this dissertation examined three elements of values—value ratings, value rankings, and value salience—and their associations with both general and role-specific pro-environmental behaviors. Across three studies (total N = 521), environmental value salience (i.e., how frequently one thinks about protecting the environment) was strongly and most consistently related to environmental behaviors, above and beyond environmental value ratings and rankings. The second part of the dissertation integrated this insight with a values-based behavior change theory, self-affirmation theory. Self-affirmation theory posits that when individuals affirm their most important value, they will exhibit less defensiveness and be more likely to change their behaviors. Although values are central to this behavior change approach, this theory has not been linked to broader value theorizing. The integration of the results of the first three studies and self-affirmation theory led to a new perspective on how self-affirmation might function in the environmental domain, and how a modified self-affirmation manipulation which includes a value-linking component may be able to strengthen the inclusion of the environment in the self among participants and increase pro-environmental behaviors. In three experiments (total N = 789), the value-linking affirmation was able to increase environmental value salience by increasing perceived inclusion of environmental values in the self. Greater inclusion of the environment in the self was then related to greater pro-environmental behaviors. The experimental work was supported by a test of the validity of a new environmental behavior intention scale. The dissertation provides new insights to the theoretical understanding of the value-behavior relationship, and how the inclusion of environmental values in the self can be manipulated to increase pro-environmental behaviors.

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