Altruism, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior Models

A number of early theories and models focused specifically on altruism, empathy, and prosocial behaviors (Kollmuss and Agyeman 2010). Stern et al.'s (1995) early model was developed from the norm-activation model of Schwartz (1977). Schwartz argued that moral norms, or feelings of strong moral obligations that people experience, are direct determinants of prosocial behavior. Altruistic behavior should increase when a person becomes aware of other people's suffering and feels a responsibility to alleviate this suffering. Stern et al. expanded the altruistic orientation to include a social orientation, an egoistic orientation, and a biospheric orientation. Every person has all three orientations, but in different strengths. The early model was expanded into the value–belief–norm (VBN) model (Stern 2000) which essentially proposes that values relate to an individual's beliefs which then form intentions to act through norms. This theory combined three existing theories into a causal chain of five variables leading to behavior. Our values (i.e., selfinterest, humanistic altruism, biospheric altruism) influence our worldview about the environment (general beliefs such as the NEP) which, in turn, influences our beliefs about the adverse consequences of environmental change on things we value. These beliefs then influence our perceived ability to reduce threats to the things we value, which influence our norms about taking action. These norms reflect our sense of personal obligation to take pro-environmental actions. The actions we can take may be activism, nonactivist public-sphere activities (e.g., voting), private-sphere behaviors (e.g., consumer choices), or behaviors in organizations. The intended pro-environmental behavior scale measures people's intention to sign a petition, to participate in an environmental protest, to disseminate information, and to write a public official (Cordano et al. 2003). Researchers find it to be a useful measure.

Several Sociological Models

Fietkau and Kessel combined sociological and psychological factors in their model of pro-environmental behavior (Kollmuss and Agyeman 2010). Their model includes five variables: attitudes and values, the possibility to act ecologically, behavioral incentives (e.g., social desirability, quality of life, monetary savings), perceived feedback about engaging in ecological behavior which can be intrinsic (e.g., the satisfaction of doing the right thing) or extrinsic (e.g., social, recycling is a socially desirable action; or economic, receiving money for collected bottles), and knowledge. Building on the inclusion of sociological factors, Kollmuss and Agyeman (2010) identify influences on pro-environmental behavior including demographic factors, internal factors, and external factors. Their model of pro-environmental behavior includes internal factors (e.g., personality traits, value system, and environmental consciousness), external factors (e.g., infrastructure), and old behavioral patterns. Some of the barriers influencing environmental consciousness include the emotional blocking of new knowledge, existing values that prevent learning, existing knowledge that contradicts environmental values, emotional blocking of environmental values/attitudes, and existing values that prevent environmental involvement. Additional challenges include lack of environmental consciousness, lack of internal incentives, negative or insufficient feedback about behavior, and lack of external possibilities and incentives. One of the primary strengths of this model is the attention to barriers appearing throughout the process. Best Practice: Identify and mitigate barriers to behavioral change.

Lubell et al. (2007) developed a model for explaining how people decide to act

when they face a collective dilemma like global warming which involves massive populations, huge uncertainties, and relatively weak institutions. This is a severe collective-action problem since our individual actions have almost no influence on the problem, individuals cannot be certain others will engage in pro-environmental actions, and many of the recommended behaviors carry relatively high costs for the individuals who adopt them. Although rational citizens would probably choose to free ride on the efforts of others, many people support global warming policies and engage in sustainable behaviors. In seeking to explain why, the authors adapted the collective interest model of collective-action behavior. This model argues that people will engage in collective action when they assess the expected value of participation as being greater than the expected value of nonparticipation. Participation is shaped by people's belief in the value of the public good, their belief their participation will effect collective outcomes, and their assessment of the benefits and costs of participation. Key elements of the model include the perceived risk of global warming, personal efficacy in making a difference, group efficacy, engagement in discussion networks, environmental values, and demographic factors which can influence a citizen's ability to pay any costs associated with activism (i.e., education, income, age, gender, or ethnicity). Citizens who believe that global warming poses a very high risk to human welfare and the environment and who perceive their actions can make a difference will be more likely to support policies or take actions designed to reduce those risks. In deciding whether or not to act, citizens assess their community's level of social capital, the likelihood others in their community will reciprocate if they act, and the competence of policy elites. Political discussion networks provide citizens with resources such as positive reinforcement and access to information about preferred actions. Lubell et al. empirically tested the model in relation to three behaviors: policy support, environmental political participation, and environmental behavior related to global warming. They found different factors explained a significant percentage in the variance of the three behaviors. In general, those who believe the risk from global warming is high, believe their actions can make a difference, and hold pro-environmental values are more likely to support global warming policy and to take action. Higher education and income levels provide citizens with the civic skills and resources necessary to manage selective costs and recognize participation opportunities. Those interested in organizations in relation to community organizing, social movements, and collective actions should read Ganesh and Stohl's (2014) review.

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