Increasing sustainable behavior through conversation

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Many household decisions, such as how high to set the thermostat or what food to buy, are not made independently by individuals, but rather by multiple people through the process of conversation. Despite this reality, research on conversation as a vehicle for social influence is sparse, particularly in the sustainability domain. Across three experiments, we test the causal effects of peer-to-peer conversation on sustainable behavior and examine the roles of psychological safety and partner stance in this process. In Study 1 (N = 568), we compare the effect of having a conversation about a sustainability issue to that of making a commitment to take action on the same issue. Having a sustainability conversation prior to making a commitment increases sustainable behavior above and beyond either conversation or commitment alone, and this effect is partially explained by a sense of psychological safety developed during the conversation, resulting in a stronger commitment. Study 2 (N = 302) examines how post-conversation behavior is influenced by partner stance. Participants were randomly assigned to converse with a confederate who gave arguments either supporting or opposing a sustainability initiative. Results show that among individuals initially unsupportive of the initiative, speaking with someone who is supportive of the initiative resulted in more sustainable behavior than speaking with an unsupportive person. Study 3 (N = 545) replicates this finding using an online writing paradigm instead of face-to-face conversation. These findings provide practical insights for promoting sustainable behavior that can be adapted to fit a number of residential, workplace, and community contexts.




Hurst, K. F., Sintov, N. D., & Donnelly, G. E. (2023). Increasing sustainable behavior through conversation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 86.

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