Environmental Psychology

Before I started my PhD program, I researched environmental psychology to better understand how people feel, think, and about issues related to environmental sustainability. Key issues included attitudes regarding the development of green spaces and personal responsibility in combating climate change.

Who engages in sustainable behaviors?

We looked at personality traits and how specific traits may correlate with the tendency to engage in more environmentally sustainable behaviors (measured by the donation of an amount of money to an environmental cause and a choice to write a letter to a political figure regarding environmental sustainability). We found that people who preferred socially dominant social structures, or the idea that some people should be "superior" and others "inferior", were less likely to engage in sustainable behaviors. In fact, the higher the preference for social dominance, the lower the amount people would choose to donate ($0.00 being the minimum and indicates no donation). Preference for social dominance is related to conservative political views, opposition to social programs, and lower Agreeableness scores, all of which are also related to. People who chose to donate to an environmental cause had higher Agreeableness scores, were more likely to be interested in politics, and support science.

There are, of course, numerous other factors that we did not examine that are known to influence engagement in sustainable behaviors. For example, social, fiscal, and political leanings are incredibly important in shaping the degree to which people value environmental sustainability, and there are nuances to political values that are not covered by broad personality scales.

Mindset priming and environmental sustainability

From our research, we found that women tended to be concerned about environmental issues. This led us to try to understand why women are more likely to be sustainable. One idea, known as the motherhood mentality model, is that people with "nurturing" feelings (particularly women) may be more inclined to engage in environmentally sustainable actions because women are socialized to become caregivers, and, thus, would be more concerned about the wellbeing of future generations (such as their children or grandchildren). (It should be noted that there might be other reasons why women may be more environmentally-conscious such as a tendency to be more Agreeable.)

Our question was whether we could "prime" a mindset that would be more receptive to take sustainable actions. In particular, could a nurturing mindset, such as the ones posited to be responsible for higher sustainability engagement in women, increase sustainable behaviors? People were asked to imagine themselves in either a nurturing or neutral scenario. Then we asked people to choose between two options, one being environmentally sustainable and the other being environmentally neutral. We found that people reported more nurturing feelings after they were primed in a nurturing mindset. People who chose the "green" option also tended to report a higher degree of nurturing feelings.

Relevant Presentations

Ng, T., Jespersen, R., & Engle-Friedman, M. (2013). Optimal message framing for environmental information. Poster presented at the 2013 Conference of Research Experiences for Undergraduates Student Scholarship, Arlington, VA.
Ng, T., Jespersen, R., Hutchings, R., & Engle-Friedman, M. (2013). Personality, attitudinal correlates and difference in sustainable charitable behavior. Poster presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the New England Psychological Association, Bridgeport, CT.
Ng, T., Jespersen, R., & Engle-Friedman, M. (2013). The efficacy of a mindset prime on evoking feelings of nurturance. Poster presented at the 41 st Hunter College Psychology Convention, New York, NY.
Ng, T., Jespersen, R., & Engle-Friedman, M. (2013). Does nurturing mindset play a role in environmental decision making? Poster presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, New York, NY.
Jespersen, R., Ng, T., & Engle-Friedman, M. (2012). Testing the “motherhood mentality model”: The link between nurturance and environmental concern in women. Poster presented at the 2012 annual meeting of the New England Psychological Association, Worcester, MA.
Ng, T. (2012). Does priming for nurturance lead to more sustainable behavior? Oral presentation at the 2012 Annual Conference for Research Experience for Undergraduates at Baruch College, New York, NY.