American Psychology Association – Psychology and Climate Change

This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.

Now I wonder if anyone has seen the press release on psychology and climate change from the American Psychological Association

It appears the Identity Campaigning work may have passed this group by. Here is the relevant extract:

The task force highlighted some ways that psychology is already working to limit these barriers (to change in reaction to climate change). For example, people are more likely to use energy-efficient appliances if they are provided with immediate energy-use feedback. Devices that show people how much energy and money they’re conserving can yield energy savings of 5 percent to 12 percent, according to research. “Behavioural feedback links the cost of energy use more closely to behavior by showing the costs immediately or daily rather than in an electric bill that comes a month later,” said Swim.

Also, some studies have looked at whether financial incentives can spur people to weatherize their houses. The research has shown that combined strong financial incentives, attention to customer convenience and quality assurance and strong social marketing led to weatherization of 20 percent or more of eligible homes in a community in the first year of a program. The results were far more powerful than achieved by another program that offered just financial incentives.

Nicolas CaesarAmerican Psychology Association – Psychology and Climate Change


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  • Joe Brewer - August 12, 2009 reply

    This is a great example of how the rationalist paradigm even misleads scientists. I recall attending a conference on climate change and consumption at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN (USA) last year where a speaker attempted to explain how the cost-savings feedback loop would alter energy consumption. I stood up during the Q&A to respond that they were presuming human beings to be rational actors, and that their theory of human nature was fundamentally flawed in all its grounding tenets – by the same sciences they drew upon to support their misguided claims!

    What are those tenets? Here are a few key elements of rational choice theory that are all wrong:

    1. Thought must be conscious (e.g. we can know our own thoughts)

    Empirical research in the cognitive sciences shows that this is decidedly false. Most of what we call “conscious thought” is structured outside conscious awareness (some estimates are as high as 98%).

    2. Thought is logical (i.e. we apply propositional reasoning with traditional formalist category structures)

    This is also decidedly false. Each context has its own “inference structure” based on the frames, metaphors, etc. that are activated in the brain. Also, categories have a radial-prototype structure that contradicts traditional theories of categories presumed by symbolic logic.

    3. Thought is literal (e.g. our thoughts map onto things in the world as “representations” of those things)

    Linguistic research shows that thought is profoundly metaphorical and grounded in the bodily experience.

    4. Reason is universal (e.g. there is a universal mode of reasoning for all humans… or it is human nature to be “rational animals”)

    Again, wrong as can be. Reason is bound to those same inference structures mentioned about. It is situated and context-dependent. And different people reason in different ways depending upon the structure of their conceptual systems.

    5. Reason is dispassionate (e.g. emotions get in the way of reason and stand in opposition to it)

    Research focusing on patients with brain damage shows that emotions are vital to effective reasoning. Without emotions, we cannot read social cues or assess risks. Nor can we adequately pay attention to important information.

    Of course, there are other equally wrong tenets. But this makes the point well enough. Many psychologists today have been trained in the enlightenment view of human nature behind this false theory of mind. It is pervasive in society and in Western education.

    It just happens to be in serious need of an update.


    Joe Brewer
    Director, Cognitive Policy Works

  • Mark Meisner - August 12, 2009 reply

    There has been some discussion of this report on the Environmental Communication Network LISTSERV. Some folks are talking about preparing a position paper from an Environmental Communication perspective.

  • Janet Swim - August 17, 2009 reply

    FYI, the APA press release only mentioned a small portion of what is in the APA task force report. I chaired the task force. We discuss consumption broadly and report on several of Kasser’s studies. This publicaiton by Crompton & Kasser is able to go into more detail than we could on the topics of materialism and the implications of this perspective for behavioral change. It is a great publication and I recommend it highly.
    I would recommend reading the task force report, that will be available from APA this fall, to get a sense of the breadth of ways that psychology is involved in climate change.

  • Tom - September 3, 2009 reply

    Thanks, Janet. I’ve looked at the full report (and look forward to studying it properly!). What an achievement to pull all that together!

    It’s clear that it goes far further in its treatment of these issues than the press release suggests.

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