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Affirming Belief in Scientific Progress Reduces Environmentally Friendly Behaviour

DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2009

Meijers, Marijn H. C., and Bastiaan T. Rutjens. “Affirming Belief in Scientific Progress Reduces Environmentally Friendly Behaviour.” European Journal of Social Psychology 44.5 (2014): 487–495.

p.1: Many people are reluctant to behave in environmentally friendly ways. One possible explanation might be that the motivation to behave in environmentally friendly ways is undermined by the way scientific progress is overstated in the popular media. Four experiments show that portraying science as rapidly progressing—and thus enabling society to control problems related to the natural environment and human health in the not-too-distant future—is detrimental to environmentally friendly behaviour because such a frame affirms perceptions of an orderly (vs chaotic) world. This in turn negatively affects the likelihood of engaging in environmentally friendly behaviour. Simultaneously, communication that questions (vs affirms) scientific progress leads to lower perceptions of order and consequential increases in environmentally friendly behaviour. These findings show that when the aim is to promote environmentally friendly attitudes and behaviour, it helps to not overstate scientific progress. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.1: Research has indeed shown that the popular media often overstate the progress of science and its ability to spawn technological advances and provide solutions to pressing problems such as climate change and disease (i.e. a progress frame; e.g. Corbett & Durfee, 2004; Nisbet et al., 2002; Stewart, Dickerson, & Hotchkiss, 2009; Weaver, Lively, & Bimber, 2009). -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.1: Affirming the progress of science might enhance perceptions of order, which in turn decreases the motivation to engage in environmentally friendly actions. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.2: Ample research has provided evidence for this hydraulic relation between personal and external control in satiating people’s need to perceive order. Specifically, studies have shown that when the controlling abilities of a particular external source are limited (e.g. government instability), people seek to reaffirm order by exerting (sometimes illusory) personal control or affirming their belief in alternative external sources of control (e.g. God). -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.2: Of importance to the current paper, however, is that recent research has shown that belief in scientific progress can also function as compensation for low personal control (Rutjens, van Harreveld, & van der Pligt, 2010). This research found that experimentally lowering personal control increases the tendency to defend the notion of progress and generally increased faith in scientific and technological advances. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.2: By being able to solve these problems, science as an institution or human endeavour exerts control over the world, and thus, it could be argued that it functions as an external source of control that helps to maintain order perceptions. This suggests that the more one endorses science as an external source of control, the more one perceives order in the environment. The research by Rutjens, van Harreveld et al. (2010) showed that lowering personal control enhanced belief in scientific progress. It, however, did not provide evidence for the extent to which this belief actually helps to maintain order perceptions. Nor that it, as a hydraulic consequence, reduces the motivation to exert personal control. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.2: Related to this idea, recent research in the domain of religious compensatory control has found that when people are reminded of a controlling God, their motivation to actively pursue goals is undermined (Laurin, Kay, & Fitzsimons, 2012) -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.3: Returning to CCT’s glass analogy, when belief in scientific progress is affirmed, the glass is largely filled by external control (Figure 1). This reduces the need to exert personal control. As such, communicating about science in a way that it seems infallible and rapidly progressing may cause inertia, whereas, in contrast, questioning scientific progress should lead to a relative increase in environmentally friendly intentions and behaviours. Because optimal levels of order are not provided by an external source of control, the motivation to exert personal control through behaving in an environmentally friendly way is enhanced. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.7: Although most people understand the importance of environmentally friendly behaviour, they generally appear to find it difficult to put this into practice (Dunlap, Gallup, & Gallup, 1993; Tanner & Kast, 2003). The current research demonstrates that one explanation for this lies in the way science communication is framed. A strong focus on a rapidly progressing science that has the potential to provide solutions to pressing problems negatively affects environmentally friendly intentions and behaviour. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.7: Second, this paper underpins the importance of investigating how media and science communication affect behaviour. There is not much known yet on how sciencerelated uncertainties and contradictions influence people’s environmentally friendly attitudes and behaviours (but see Lewandowsky, Gignac, & Vaughan, 2013; Morton, Rabinovich, Marshall, & Bretschneider, 2011). -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014