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Behavior Problems

November 19, 2009

ClimateWire has a nice piece out on the behavioral dimensions of climate change [subscription required]. Here’s a taste:

[P]eople’s attitudes do not translate into action. But most environmental activism remains centered around the assumption that changing behavior starts with changing attitudes and knowledge.

“Social psychologists have now known for four decades that the relationship between people’s attitudes and knowledge and behavior is scant at best,” said McKenzie-Mohr. Yet campaigns remain heavily focused on brochures, flyers and other means of disseminating information. “I could just as easily call this presentation ‘beyond brochures,'” he said.

In the marketing world, one way this issue manifests itself is in the “say-do problem,” which says that what people actually buy does not necessarily correspond to what they say they will buy. That complicates the efforts of those who seek to predict consumer response to a product, for example.

“The say-do problem isn’t something just in the marketing world,” said Art Barnard, president of a Madison, Wis.-based market research firm, GKA Research. “Why do people constantly say they’re going to meet you on a Friday night, meet their friends, and never show up?”

In philosophy, there are related questions about moral motivation. IMHO, questions in moral psychology are deeply interesting and relevant to environmental problems. What matters is the extent to which a reason can be said to be motivating, or how reasons-responsive we are as individuals. It is plainly not the case, it seems to me, that people with all the right reasons and all the right knowledge will necessarily take the steps required to move forward. In part this is a question for social-psychologists, but it is also a deep question for philosophers. Is this a failure of reason, for instance?  Or is it simply a failure of psychology?

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