Academic research isn’t always immediately applicable. This is not a bad thing, part of the aim of academic research is to wander into new territory. It is not surprising if often this isn’t directly applicable today. It is interesting, however, when academics try and bring their perspectives to more practical problems. Vladas Griskevicius, Stephanie M. Cantú, and Mark van Vugt apply an evolutionary psychology lens to sustainable decision-making. What can we learn about evolutionary psychology and sustainability?
We Aren’t Necessarily Great At Sustainability
I’m not going to cite anything but anecdotal evidence. Still, I can’t help but think that we are all making lots of decisions that aren’t sustainable. Some of these could be changed pretty easily if the messaging were clearer. Griskevicius, and his colleagues, suggest approaches those interested in promoting sustainability can work with the ways that human beings think. For example, the authors suggest that people have evolved in a specific way. This being to “…disregard problems they cannot see or feel” (Griskevicius, Cantú and van Vugt, 2012, page 118).
The logic is simple. Evolution wouldn’t have selected for those who worried about things they couldn’t see. This is because, until recently, humans had quite limited abilities to influence such things. Why worry would humans have worried about this till now? Bemoaning that people aren’t thinking about what they cannot see or feel won’t get us far. instead, those trying to initiate change can try to ensure that they improve their communication. “Create visible links between behavior and its immediate environmental consequences” (page 118). Essentially this means giving people wins that they can easily see.
Norms Can Be Good Or Bad
Furthermore, there is little point in complaining that people go along with negative social norms. People don’t bother recycling if no one else is doing so. Instead, highlight the existence of positive norms. People who do recycle. It is easier to persuade people to do the right thing because everyone else is doing it than ask them to start a new movement.
I’d agree with their overall suggestion.
We contend that for influence strategies to be optimally effective, they must work with, rather than against, evolved tendencies.Griskevicius , 2012, page 125
Evolutionary Psychology And Sustainability: Work With How People Think
Evolutionary psychology and sustainability can be brought together. Working with the way people think is likely to be more effective than fighting against the tide.
For more on sustainability see here, here, and here.
Read: Vladas Griskevicius, Stephanie M. Cantú, and Mark van Vugt (2012) The Evolutionary Bases for Sustainable Behavior: Implications for Marketing, Policy, and Social Entrepreneurship, Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 31(1), pages 115-128.