Psychological barriers and avenues to changing behaviour

Lynx lynxI read an interesting blog post by Andrew Revkin at DotEarth today that made me think about what motivates us to act on risks like climate change or species loss:
“The science of human behavior, particularly the psychology of risk perception, robustly shows that we use two systems to make judgments about risk; reason and affect, facts and feelings. It is simply naïve to disregard this inescapable truth and presume that reason and intellect alone will carry the day. That’s just not how the human animal behaves. Even as potentially catastrophic as climate change might be, if people don’t sense climate change as a direct personal threat, reason alone won’t convince them that the costs of action are worth it.” – David Ropeik, quoted on dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com

This helps to validate my long-time gut feeling that without direct experience that leads to a lasting emotionally charged memory of either the wonder of nature or the harsh risks of environmental damage, people won’t take action. This is why experiential outdoor education for children and adults (if I can be so optimistic) is so important to create a generation of people passionate to make changes for the benefit of the planet.

On the other hand, there are other rational and fact-based reasons that must be addressed if we want people to act:

“Which Psychological Barriers Limit Climate Change Action? General sequence of psychological barriers

Ignorance
Uncertainty
Mistrust and reactance
Denial
Judgmental discounting
Place attachment
Habit
Perceived behavioral control [–> you need evidence that your actions will make a difference; emotions and principles seem not be enough]
Perceived risks from behavioral change
Tokenism and the rebound effect
Social comparison, norms, conformity and perceived equity
Conflicting goals and aspirations
Belief in solutions outside of human control”

– from a task force of the American Psychological Association, quoted on dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com

The science of human behavior, particularly the psychology of risk perception, robustly shows that we use two systems to make judgments about risk; reason and affect, facts and feelings. It is simply naïve to disregard this inescapable truth and presume that reason and intellect alone will carry the day. That’s just not how the human animal behaves. Even as potentially catastrophic as climate change might be, if people don’t sense climate change as a direct personal threat, reason alone won’t convince them that the costs of action are worth it.