A survey was carried out to investigate whether level of education increased attitudes to proenvironmental behaviour. The survey was completed by 67 students, including 16 level three Access to Higher Education students, 29 level four psychological studies students and 22 level five psychological studies students. Level of education does not significantly increase attitudes to proenvironmental behaviour. Although it is not suggested what factors do increase attitudes to proenvironmental behaviour, which could be investigated in further research.
Environmental psychology is a relatively new area within psychology; that developed at the end of the 1950s. Environmental psychology research began with interest into the physical characteristics of the environment but the research developed into the bigger issue of the interaction between human behaviour and the socio-physical environment (Bonnes & Secchiaroli, 1995). This interaction is known as environmental behaviour, which is based on the knowledge of environmental science and it is judged on a person’s impact on the environment; whether they are pro-environmental or not. Pro-environmental behaviour is determined by the context of the society as a protective way of environmental behaviour or attributing to a healthy environment (Krajhanzl, 2010).
The world, today, is succumbed to serious and potentially damaging global environmental change; in which inducing proenvironmental behaviours in individuals is important to achieve sustainability. Studying the determinants of proenvironmental behaviour has been a topic of interest for a broad range of social science disciplines (Turaga, Howarth & Borsuk, 2010). Proenvironmental behaviour can be induced in individuals by altering their attitudes towards the environment (Cassidy, 1997). Attitudes reflect feelings about objects or specific issues. Although it is difficult to believe that people can feel it is right to damage the environment, evidence suggests that this is not the case; people still rive fast, fuel consuming cars and waste energy even though it is a well known fact that these activities contribute to environmental damage. However, many people do have positive attitudes towards the environment yet do not use these attitudes to alter their behaviour (Bloom, 1995).
Although the attitudes of people are becoming ‘greener’; when studying their behaviour; in particular buying behaviours, the results shows a completely different story. Even though consumption habits and lifestyles have altered during the past few decades, there is still strong evidence to suggest that the Western culture live in a throw-away society. However, governments and companies believe that by improving the understanding of the factors that drive people to more ecological purchase choices, they are able to influence consumers’ environmental behaviour in the future (Birgelen, Semeijn & Keicher, 2009). There have been several programs created to sustain proenvironmental behaviour; these programs are based upon behavioural change models that psychological research has found to be limited. Even though psychology contributes to designing an effective program for maintaining proenvironmental behaviour, there is still not enough psychological knowledge accessible to those that are designing these environmental programs. It would be more of an effective program if there was enough funding for psychologists to work with environmentalists (McKenzie-Mohr, 2000).
Social scientists have investigated the motivation of individuals who engage in proenvironmental behaviour for several decades; which involves gaining a detailed understanding of why individuals partake in proenvironmental behaviour and how important it is to seek solutions to environmental problems that require behavioural changes. Most of the social science research has evolved around the neoclassical economic theory, which assumes that decisions made by individuals are based on a specific definition of self-interest and the solutions to environmental problems are to reward, punish or regulate behaviour; whereas psychologists concentrate on linking internal variables to behaviour. Environmental psychologists believe that proenvironmental behaviour originates from beliefs, values and attitudes, which subsequently alter an individual’s actions. Even though the role of psychologists and their attribution to internal variables motivating proenvironmental behaviour is dominant, there are still critics who need to create an interdisciplinary view. Van Liere and Dunlap (1980) believe that research should pay more attention to cognition and demographics as an environmental concern (Clark, Kotchen & Moore, 2003).
In 1992, Meadows, an environmental psychologist, stated that there is still time to avoid catastrophic damage to the environment, if changes are made in human activities. Meadows created a policy of traditional proenvironmental measures that are already familiar and in use; for example improving energy efficiency and recycling, Meadows believes that these measures must be more aggressively used to save the environment from any more damage (Gardner & Stern, 2002).
Environmental psychologists are interested in providing cost effective and socially acceptable ways to encourage the public to have more environmentally friendly lifestyles. The main focus is producing catalyst behaviour, which is the concept that new behaviours may cause individuals to take on other proenvironmental behaviours, however evidence of this is still unclear. Research by Whitmarsh and O’Neill (2010) used a postal survey to identify proenvironmental behaviours amongst the United Kingdom, which assessed the influence of proenvironmental behaviour self-identity on a range of behaviours. Whitmarsh and O’Neill (2010) also measured demographic factors; including household income and level of education, also attitudes, proenvironmental values and perceived behavioural control. They found that individuals who had higher qualifications, specifically in a scientific subject, portrayed higher levels of proenvironmental behaviour (Whitmarsh & O’Neill, 2010). The social, ecological and economic dimensions are vital components of sustaining proenvironmental behaviour (Ratner, 2004).
The aim of the survey was to look into the effect of levels of education on proenvironmental behaviour attitudes. The experimental hypothesis was ‘The higher level of education a person is at significantly increases their attitude to proenvironmental behaviour’; therefore the null hypothesis was ‘The higher level of education a person is at does not significantly increase their attitude to proenvironmental behaviour.’ The independent variable was the level of education a person was studying, level three, level four or level five, and the dependent variable was the proenvironmental behaviour score. The survey was adapted from Whitmarsh and O’Neill’s (2010) research (See Appendix 1 for survey).
The surveys were carried out in a laboratory setting, three separate university lecture theatres, to ensure all factors could be kept the same; for example lighting, temperature and noise levels, other than the independent variable (Howitt & Cramer, 2008). A pilot study was carried out, before carrying out the actual research, to evaluate the feasibility and effect size in order to improve the survey, including sample size, before performing the full-scale research project. The pilot study was carried out on twenty-two level five psychological studies students, however due to no stand out flaws; the data from the pilot study was used in the main study (Hulley, Cummings, Browner, Grady & Newman, 2007).
Most research in psychology is carried out using an opportunity sample, which usually consists of undergraduate students who are not randomly selected (Howitt & Cramer, 2008). Participants were an opportunity sample of 16 level three Access to Higher Education students, 29 level four psychological studies students and 22 level five psychological studies students; who were all attending lectures during the time of completing the survey. The participants were mainly female, although some males did participate; all participants were between the ages of 18 and 50 (Coolican, 2006).
Due to the participants been human, the British Psychological Society (BPS) code of conduct had to be adhered to. To protect participants from any physical or psychological harm, participants were fully debriefed, they were told that there answers would remain anonymous and were given the right to withdraw from the survey at any point in time. An email address was given in case the participants had any queries or wanted to withdraw their information (British Psychological Society, 2009).
(A table to show the raw set of data can be found in Appendix 2).
Table 1 shows the calculations of central tendencies for level three students
The number of participants in the level three group was 16. The level three participants’ pro-environmental behaviour score had a range of 30, in which the mean was 25.75
Table 2 shows the calculations of central tendencies for level four students
Std. Error of Skewness
The number of participants in the level four group was 29. The level four participants’ pro-environmental behaviour score had a range of 36, in which the mean was 23.00.
Table 3 shows the calculations of central tendencies for level five students
The number of participants in the level five group was 22. The level five participants’ pro-environmental behaviour score had a range of 40, in which the mean was 28.18.
Due to the level of data been ordinal and there been more than one testable group (level of education), a Kruskal-Wallis test was used to calculate the level of significance (Pallant, 2012).
Table 4 shows the Kruskal-Wallis test
For the pro-environmental behaviour score there was not a significant effect of level of education:
X2 (2, N= 67) = 4.064, p>0.05 (p = 0.131). Therefore the experimental hypothesis was ‘The higher level of education a person is at significantly increases their attitude to pro-environmental behaviour’ was rejected; meaning the null hypothesis ‘The higher level of education a person is at does not significantly increase their attitude to pro-environmental behaviour’ was accepted (Pallant, 2012).
Whitmarsh and O’Neill (2010) suggested that individuals who had higher qualifications, especially in a scientific subject, resulted in higher attitudes of proenvironmental behaviour (Whitmarsh & O’Neill, 2010). However, the results from the survey carried out, which was adapted from Whitmarsh and O’Neill’s research, showed that level of education had no significant effect on attitudes to proenvironmental behaviour, which resulted in the null hypothesis ‘The higher level of education a person is at does not significantly increase their attitude to proenvironmental behaviour’ being accepted. It can be argued that Whitmarsh and O’Neill’s research identified that qualifications in a scientific subject increased attitudes to proenvironmental behaviour, and this research involved Psychology students; however it can also be argued that Psychology is a science and this should make no significant difference to the results.
There were several results in favour of the experimental hypothesis, ‘The higher level of education a person is at significantly increases their attitude to proenvironmental behaviour’, which could be due to having studied Environmental Psychology and proenvironmental behaviour previously. To determine whether studying Environmental Psychology has a significant effect on attitudes to proenvironmental behaviour, the survey could be carried out twice; firstly at the beginning of the Environmental Psychology module and then secondly at the end of the module, and compare the results using a Wilcoxon Sign test (Coolican, 2006).
To achieve significant results, optional stopping theory could have been used; although it is highly unethical to use this theory intentionally. Optional stopping theory is where a researcher continues to collect data until statistical analysis shows marginal significance. However, if the survey was carried out on a larger sample of students, with varying levels of education, it is highly probable that a significant result would occur, resulting in the experimental hypothesis, ‘The higher level of education a person is at significantly increases their attitude to proenvironmental behaviour’, being accepted (Norris, 1997).
This survey mainly concentrated on attitudes to proenvironmental behaviour; however Whitmarsh and O’Neill’s (2010) research dealt with more than the issue of attitudes. To further this research, an in-depth replica of Whitmarsh and O’Neill’s study should be carried out, to investigate attitudes, self-identity and perceived behaviours; studying all these factors could possibly achieve a significant result in whether level of education does increase proenvironmental behaviour. The scale used, to measure proenvironmental behaviour, was typically using the traditional measures suggested by Meadows (1992). Ideally future research should expand on these traditional measures, using multi-item scales, to include inter-personal and situational dimensions, which in doing so will give consideration to the links between social factors, place identity and self-identity (Whitmarsh & O’Neill, 2010).
The findings from this survey cannot be generalised as they are not representative of the target population, therefore for future research, the sample should be larger and randomly acquired, possibly from a postal survey; using the national census statistics to obtain relevant demographic information.
The experimental hypothesis was ‘The higher level of education a person is at significantly increases their attitude to proenvironmental behaviour’, however the results suggested that level of education does not significantly increase attitudes to proenvironmental behaviour. Therefore the null hypothesis was accepted; ‘The higher level of education a person is at does not significantly increase their attitude to proenvironmental behaviour’. The study identifies that level of education is not an underlying factor to altering attitudes to proenvironmental behaviour, however the study does not highlight what factors do influence proenvironmental behaviour.
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Bonnes, M. & Secchiaroli, G. (1995) Environmental Psychology : A Psycho-Social Introduction. London : Sage.
British Psychological Society (2009) The British Psychological Society Code of Ethics and Conduct. August. p.1-31.
Cassidy, T. (1997) Environmental Psychology : Behaviour and Experience in Context. Hove : Lawrence Erlbaum.
Clark, C., Kotchen, M. & Moore, M. (2003) Internal and external influences on proenvironmental behaviour : Participation in a green electricity program. Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol. 23. p.237-246.
Coolican, H. (2006) Introduction to Research Methods in Psychology. 3rd Ed. London : Hodder & Stoughton.
Gardner, G. & Stern, P. (2002) Environmental Problems and Human Behaviour. 2nd Ed.
Boston : Pearson.
Howitt, D. & Cramer, D. (2008) Introduction to Research Methods in Psychology. 2nd Ed.
Harlow : Pearson Education Limited.
Hulley, S., Cummings, S., Browner, W., Grady, D. & Newman, T. (2007) Designing Clinical Research. 3rd Ed. Philadelphia : Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.
Krajhanzl, J. (2010) Environmental and Proenvironmental Behaviour. School and Health. Vol. 21. p.251-274.
McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2000) Promoting Sustainable Behaviour : An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing. Journal of Social Issues. Vol. 56 (3) p.543-554.
Norris, J. (1997) Cambridge Series in Statistical and Probabilistic Mathematics : Markov Chains. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.
Pallant, J. (2012) SPSS Survival Manual : A step by step guide to data analysis using SPSS. 5th Ed. Berkshire : McGraw-Hill Education.
Ratner, B. (2004) “Sustainability” as a Dialogue of Values : Challenges to the Sociology of Development. Sociological Inquiry. Vol. 74 (1) p.50-69.
Turaga, R., Howarth, R. & Borsuk, M. (2010) Proenvironmental behaviour : Rational choice meets moral motivation. Ecological Economics Reviews. Vol. 1185. p.211-224.
Whitmarsh, L. & O’Neill, S. (2010) Green identity, green living? The role of proenvironmental self-identity in determining consistency across diverse proenvironmental behaviours. Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol. 30. p.305-314.
Copy of the survey – adapted from Whitmarsh, L. & O’Neill, S. (2010) Green identity, green living? The role of proenvironmental self-identity in determining consistency across diverse proenvironmental behaviours. Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol. 30. p.305-314.
Raw data – data view from SPSS
Hello, my name is Zoe Clift and I am currently studying Level 5 Psychology. Please could you take your time out to fill out my questionnaire, you have the right to withdraw at any time and all answers will remain anonymous
Please indicate the last time you took this action (if at all)
0 = never
1 = 5 or more years ago;
2 = 1-4 years ago
3 = In the last year
Installed insulation products in your home 0 1 2 3
Bought or built an energy-efficient home 0 1 2 3
Installed a more efficient heating system . 0 1 2 3
Installed a renewable energy system (e.g.,
solar panels, wind turbine) in your home 0 1 2 3
Changed to a ‘green’ energy tariff for your home 0 1 2 3
Bought a low-emission vehicle (e.g., hybrid,
electric, biofuel, less than 1.4 L engine) 0 1 2 3
Bought a product to save water (e.g., water butt,
low-flush toilet) 0 1 2 3
Please indicate how often you take each action
0 = never
1 = occasionally
2 = often
3 = always
Turn off lights you’re not using 0 1 2 3
Drive economically (e.g., braking or accelerating
gently) 0 1 2 3
Walk, cycle or take public transport for short
journeys (i.e., trips of less than 3 miles) 0 1 2 3
Use an alternative to travelling (e.g., shopping
online) 0 1 2 3
Share a car journey with someone else 0 1 2 3
Cut down on the amount you fly 0 1 2 3
Buy environmentally-friendly products 0 1 2 3
Eat food which is organic, locally-grown or
in season 0 1 2 3
Avoid eating meat 0 1 2 3
Buy products with less packaging 0 1 2 3
Recycle 0 1 2 3
Reuse or repair items instead of throwing them
away 0 1 2 3
Compost your kitchen waste 0 1 2 3
Save water by taking shorter showers 0 1 2 3
Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth 0 1 2 3
Write to your MP about an environmental issue 0 1 2 3
Take part in a protest about an environmental issue 0 1 2 3
Please circle one of the following
18-25 26-33 34-41 42-49 50+
Current Level of Education: