P. Wesley Schultz [*]
In this article, I propose that concern for environmental problems is fundamentally linked to the degree to which people view themselves as part of the natural environment. Two studies are reported that test aspects of this theory. The first study describes the structure of people's concern for environmental problems. Results from a confirmatory factor analysis showed a clear three-factor structure, which I labeled egoistic, altruistic, and biospheric. A second study examined the effects of a perspective-taking manipulation on egoistic, social-altruistic, and biospheric environmental concerns. Results showed that participants instructed to take the perspective of an animal being harmed by pollution scored significantly higher in biospheric environmental concerns than participants instructed to remain objective.
In more than 30 years of psychological research, a variety of social psychological theories have been applied to explain attitudes about environmental issues and proenvironmental behavior. One source for theories is social psychological research on prosocial behavior. In this article, I draw on recent theoretical research on altruism and empathy to sketch the beginnings of a broad social cognitive theory for environmental concern. I argue that the types of environmental concerns people develop are associated with the degree to which they view themselves as interconnected with nature. Data from two studies provide evidence that (1) environmental concerns are clustered into three types and (2) taking the perspective of animals being harmed by pollution produces significantly higher levels of concern for the welfare of plants and animals than remaining objective.
In a preceding issue of the Journal of Social Issues, Stern and Dietz (1994) proposed that attitudes of environmental concern are rooted in a person's value system (see also Stern, Dietz, & Kalof, 1993, or Stern, Dietz, Kalof, & Guagnano, 1995). They argued that people's attitudes about environmental issues are based on the value that they place on themselves, other people, or plants and animals. Each of these clusters of values provides a distinct basis for environmental concern, such that two people could express the same level of general concern (e.g., concern for air pollution) for fundamentally different reasons (e.g., polluted air is dangerous to my health, polluted air is dangerous to the health of children, or polluted air is damaging to forests). They refer to this model as the value-belief-norm (VBN) theory (see Stern, this issue).
Stern and Dietz (1994) termed these three value-based environmental concerns egoistic, social-altruistic, and biospheric. Egoistic concerns are based on a person's valuing himself or herself above other people and above other living things. "Egoistic values predispose people to protect aspects of the environment that affect them personally, or to oppose protection of the environment if the personal costs are perceived as high" (Stem & Dietz, 1994, p. 70). Although egoistic values are often seen as opposing the environmental movement (Clark, 1995; Oskamp, this issue), it is important to point out that in situations where people high in egoism perceive a threat to themselves from environmental damage, they can be expected to be concerned about environmental problems. Social-altruistic values lead to concern for environmental issues when a person judges environmental issues on the basis of costs to or benefits for other people, be they individuals, a neighborhood, a social network, a country, or all humanity. Bi ospheric environmental concerns are based on a value for all living things.
A large body of research has linked environmental problems to the human tendency to act in one's own interest (e.g., Bamberg, Kuhnel, & Schmidt, 1999; Diekmann & Preisendorfer, 1998; Hardin, 1968, 1977; Kaiser, Ranney, Hartig, & Bowler, 1999). For example, driving a car a few blocks to the store is beneficial for the individual (e.g., it's faster, requires less physical exertion, and is climate controlled) but is detrimental to the collective (contributes to traffic congestion and noise, uses more natural resources) and detrimental to the environment (air pollution). According to this rational-choice model, environmental behavior is motivated by the perceived behavioral consequences associated with various actions. As Batson (1994) points out, however, at times, people do act in ways that increase the welfare of some other person or group of people over self. Indeed, we would expect the rational-choice model to explain more variability in behavior for individuals who place a higher value on self (relative to their valuing of others and of nature) than for individuals who place less relative value on self. Based on the VBN theory summarized above, we would expect the rational-choice model to apply more to egoists than to social-altruists or biospherists.
An argument similar to that made by Stern and Dietz (1994) can be found in Batson (1994) and Batson, Batson, et al. (1995), although Batson does not draw connections between his work and proenvironmental attitudes or behaviors. Expanding on his research concerning empathy and altruism (cf. Batson et al., 1988; Batson et al., 1989; Batson et al., 1991), Batson (1994) points out that at times, people choose to act in the interest of others, even when that action comes at a cost to self. Batson argues that prosocial behavior can be motivated by four different factors: egoism, collectivism, altruism, and principlism. Motives are defined as forces aimed at achieving an ultimate goal, and it is individual differences in these ultimate goals that lead to different motives. These ultimate goals are comparable to Stern and Dietz's (1994) value orientations. For Batson (1994), egoism is a self-interest motive: "a motive is egoistic if the ultimate goal is to increase the actor's own welfare" (p. 604). Choosing to driv e a car to a nearby store because it is easier is egoistic. (Similarly, choosing not to drive in order to save money is also egoistic.) Collectivism is a motivation with the ultimate goal of increasing the welfare of a group of people or collective. Altruism is motivation with the ultimate goal of increasing the welfare of "one or more individuals other than oneself" (p. 606). For example, choosing not to drive in order to reduce traffic congestion is altruistic. Finally, principlism is motivation with the ultimate goal of upholding some moral principle. Choosing not to drive in order to improve the quality of life for all living things shows principlism.
The present research builds on the theories of both Stern and Dietz (1994) and Batson and his colleagues (Batson, 1994; Batson, Batson, et al., 1995). Both theories suggest that environmental concerns (which may also serve as motives for behavior) may be clustered around common themes. …