How pride and guilt guide pro-environmental behaviour

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

The world is currently confronted with environmental problems such as water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and air pollution. A promising way to reduce environmental problems is to encourage consumers towards more sustainable consumption patterns. Pro-environmental consumer choices involve a tradeoff between environmental motives and more personally related motives such as healthiness, convenience, and price. In this dissertation we explore how feeling good about oneself influences pro-environmental decision making.

We focus on pride and guilt, which belong to the group of self-conscious emotions. Self-conscious emotions occur when individuals are aware of themselves and reflect on themselves in order to evaluate whether their behaviour is in accordance with their (personal and social) standards. In short, we explore the fundamental way in which pride and guilt guide pro-environmental behaviour via self-reflection. We propose that pride and guilt guide behaviour via a self-regulatory function, meaning that they provide feedback about how one is performing regarding one’s own standards and the perceived standards of others. The emotional feedback is used to guide oneself in accordance with these standards (i.e. self-regulation). Furthermore, we propose that the way one sees the self (who am I in relation to others), affects how individuals evaluate themselves, which in turn affects how pride and guilt are formed and guide behaviour.

This thesis has both theoretical implications, as we increase understanding in the function of self-conscious emotions, and practical implications, as understanding the functions of pride and guilt in consumer decision making can be used to develop interventions to promote pro-environmental behaviour among consumers. For a thorough discussion of these implications we refer to the General Discussion. Below we provide a short overview of the findings of the individual chapters.

Chapter 2 explores whether and how pride and guilt affect pro-environmental behaviour. Previous studies do not provide clear evidence regarding the effects of pride and guilt on subsequent pro-environmental behaviour. Acting or not acting in a pro-environmental way might induce feelings of pride and guilt respectively, which does not necessarily mean that these emotions guide future pro-environmental choices. Three studies show that pride, and to a lesser extent guilt, guide future pro-environmental choices. Chapter 2 additionally explores how pride and guilt affect pro-environmental behaviour. We propose that pride and guilt influence pro-environmental behaviour by providing information about whether the intended behaviour is in line with one’s standards, and not out of a basic tendency to feel good. Two studies show indeed that only related (endogenous) and not unrelated (exogenous) emotions affect pro-environmental behaviour. These findings imply that pride and guilt affect pro-environmental behaviour via a feedback-function and not via a basic mechanism to feel good.

Chapter 3explores howpride and guilt affect pro-environmental behaviour via a  feedback-function. Up until now it was not clear how these emotions guide behaviour. The function of pride and guilt is explored in two vested theories: the Norm Activation model (NAM) and the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB). Several researchers who use the NAM propose that anticipated pride and guilt are associated with personal norms. However, these researchers have specified the nature of this association in different ways (including direct effects, mediating effects, or moderating effects), and have rarely tested these proposed associations empirically. This chapter shows how the function of pride and guilt within the NAM can be specified. The results support a self-regulatory function of pride and guilt which shows that they mediate the effects of personal norms on pro-environmental behaviour. Anticipated pride and guilt thus guide individuals to behave themselves in accordance with existing standards regarding the environment (i.e. self-regulatory function). Moreover, we integrated the NAM with the TPB and show that the self-regulatory functions of pride and guilt remain present in an integrated NAM-TPB model (Bamberg et al., 2007). Pride and guilt mediate the effects of personal norms, attitudes, and injunctive social norms on intentions. Pride and guilt therefore seem to regulate individual behaviour regarding the environment so as to allow a person to be in accordance with one’s personal and social standards towards the environment.

Chapter 4initially explores whether the self-regulatory functions of pride and guilt differ across personally oriented versus pro-socially oriented contexts. Previous studies that explore the self-regulatory function of self-conscious emotions within the TPB show mixed findings regarding the mediating effects of these emotions. This chapter distinguishes between injunctive and descriptive social norms and includes multiple contexts to explore whether this accounts for the mixed findings. Three survey studies show that anticipated pride and guilt regulate behavioural intentions to make them in accordance with attitudes and injunctive and descriptive social norms. Additionally, we show that the self-regulatory function of pride and guilt differs across contexts, which may account for the mixed findings of previous studies. We show preliminary evidence that anticipated self-conscious emotions have a larger mediating effect in altruistic (i.e. organic and fair trade consumption) rather than personally oriented (i.e. healthy consumption) contexts.

InChapter 5 we explore whether the self-regulatory function of pride and guilt differs across collectivistic and individualistic countries. Based on previous studies (e.g., Mesquita, 2001), we suggest that the function of emotions might differ due to cultural differences in the construal of the self. We propose that the way one sees the self in relation to others (i.e. self-construal) affects the self-regulatory function of anticipated pride and guilt. Individualistic countries are overrepresented by individuals with a private self (i.e. independent self) meaning that the self encompasses unique individuals with their own personal goals. Collectivistic countries are overrepresented by individuals with a social self (i.e. interdependent self) meaning that the self encompasses family, friends, and important others, and a striving to reach group-based goals. We conducted a survey across eight collectivistic and individualistic countries. As expected the results show that there are no differences across countries in the self-regulatory function of anticipated pride and guilt withinindividualistic and withincollectivistic cultures, but that there are differences betweencollectivistic and individualistic cultures. Individuals from collectivistic countries use more social standards and less personal standards to anticipate pride and guilt. These findings provide a first indication that the function of emotions is more socially driven for individuals from collectivistic rather than individualistic cultures. These findings imply that cultural differences in the function of emotions are associated with cultural differences in self-construal (i.e. independent and interdependent self).

Chapter 6explores whether the function of pride and guilt might also vary within individuals due to activating different construals of the self. Previous studies show that contextual cues can activate private versus social selves within an individual. We show that social media can also act as a contextual cue that activates the social self. Moreover, three experiments show that activating the social self increases the effects of guilt on pro-environmental intentions, whereas activating the private self increases the effects of pride on pro-environmental intentions. This finding implies that activating different construals of the self can increase the effects of emotions on intentions. Furthermore, we show that these effects occur because the activation of private versus social selves results in different self-evaluations. Activating the social self makes individuals more sensitive to social norms in self-evaluations that evoke emotions, whereas activating the private self makes individuals more sensitive to attitudes in self-evaluations that evoke emotions. The findings of this chapter imply that guilt is more social in nature than pride.

 

Conclusion. The current thesis shows that pride and guilt guide pro-environmental consumer behaviour via a self-regulatory function. Pride and guilt occur after a self-reflection on personal and social standards related to the environment, and in turn they guide pro-environmental behaviour. This function differs when different employments of the self are activated or cultivated. Thus how one sees oneself through one’s own eyes and through the eyes of others affects the emotions that one experiences, and how these emotions affect subsequent pro-environmental intentions.

 

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Antonides, Gerrit, Promotor
Award date2 May 2014
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789461739070
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords

  • economics
  • human behaviour
  • consumer behaviour
  • environment
  • choice behaviour
  • behavioural economics
  • economic psychology
  • perception
  • consumption
  • emotions
  • self perception
  • environmental psychology

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    Onwezen, M. C. (2014). How pride and guilt guide pro-environmental behaviour. Wageningen: Wageningen University.