As anthropogenic influences on climate change become more readily apparent, the role of behavioral science in understanding barriers to sustainable actions cannot be overstated. Environmental psychologists have proposed that a major barrier to sustainability is the delayed, socially distant, and probabilistic effects of public policy efforts aimed at preserving Earth’s resources. This proposal places sustainability squarely within the research topic of delay, social, and probability discounting – processes well known to behavioral scientists. To date, there has been surprisingly little behavioral research examining the role of discounting processes in environmental decision making. In the present study, we examined the degree to which simple hyperbolic models of discounting can describe college students’ ratings of concern and their willingness to act in the face of an environmental disaster. Findings suggest that hyperbolic models of delay, social, and probability discounting adequately describe these self-report data. Interestingly, but sadly unsurprisingly, ratings of willingness to act were discounted more steeply than concern across delay, social, and probability discounting tasks. A greater understanding of the behavioral processes associated with sustainability can inform better public policy efforts and may bridge the gap between environmental psychology and behavior analysis.
Kaplan, Brent A.; Reed, Derek D.; and McKerchar, Todd, "Using a Visual Analogue Scale to Assess Delay, Social, and Probability Discounting of an Environmental Loss" (2014). Research, Publications & Creative Work. 100.