Environmental issues are a hot topic at the moment, with issues such as renewable energy and climate change at the top of the political agenda. Even though we might come up with technological solutions for some environmental challenges facing us, there will almost certainly be a need for some degree of behavior change from the general population. Therefore, understanding the psychology that underpins whether or not people decide to change their behavior to protect the environment is critical. I’m currently working on understanding just this in my Ph.D. at the University of Queensland in Australia and used SurveyMonkey to help understand why people do or do not change their behavior to help protect the environment.
My research looks at how our own decisions about whether or not to engage in behaviors to help the environment are affected by our perceptions of what other people around us are doing. We know from past research that these perceptions (what we call social norms) have a powerful impact on behavior. Now we are interested in looking at what happens when these influences conflict – that is, when one group of people does one thing, and another group something different.
As an academic in psychology, we tend to rely on the help of undergraduates who participate in our studies for course credit. While they provide a great resource and allow us to test ideas in the tightly controlled confines of the lab, for some issues it is more important to get out into the real world. By targeting members of the general community on SurveyMonkey Audience, we were able to access the responses and opinions of people who actually make decisions about these issues every day, rather than undergrads who tend to live in on-campus housing and thus have little control over many environmental behaviors (such as recycling, heating use, lighting etc).
Another issue with studying the psychology of undergraduate students (especially when you’re interested in socially and politically relevant topics), is that you develop an expert understanding of the psychology of young, middle class females! SurveyMonkey Audience allowed us to overcome these limitations by providing us with a more diverse pool of participants from whom we were able to survey using our typical laboratory questionnaires.
It was easy to recruit a sample using SurveyMonkey Audience, especially since our main criteria was that we were looking for regular people, and asking them about everyday things. We surveyed about 300 adults from across the country, who varied in terms of their education, income, and political leanings–which tend to be important considerations when talking about environmental issues.
We found that when we asked people to think about the ways that groups of people in their life were different in terms of what they did for the environment (compared to when we asked people to think about similarities), that people rated environmental actions as more effective, and they were less likely to endorse economic justifications for failing to act on environmental issues.
This indicates that when multiple social influences conflict, it doesn’t make people just forget about the environment, or about fitting in. Instead, this suggests that the discrepancy in the actions of others is being seen as a ‘call to arms’ to people to do something about environmental issues. This is important as previous work in social psychology had assumed that when multiple sources of influence were present, people would simply follow the norm of the group that was most important to them.
SurveyMonkey Audience allowed us to quickly gather data and test new ideas on a sample of people it would have taken months to recruit via our usual methods. This allowed us to test some more new ideas along with our core questions that we wouldn’t have been able to risk devoting endless hours of lab time to checking out.
If you’re interested in seeing how SurveyMonkey Audience can help with your research needs, email us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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