A new study that included residents from Sweden, the United States, England, and India found that most people are convinced they are more environmentally friendly than average.
For the study, more than 4,000 people responded to how much, and how often, they perform environmentally friendly activities compared to others. Environmentally friendly activities included buying eco-labelled products, saving household energy, and reducing purchases of plastic bags.
The majority of the participants rates themselves as more environmentally friendly than others — both in comparison to unknown people and to their friends.
After analyzing data from different types of environmentally friendly activities, the researchers discovered that the participants were more likely to overestimate their engagement in activities they perform often. Many seemed to draw the faulty conclusion that the activities they perform often, they also perform more often than others, the researchers added.
“The results point out our tendency to overestimate our own abilities, which is in line with previous studies where most people consider themselves to be more honest, more creative, and better drivers than others. This study shows that over-optimism, or the ‘better-than-average’ effect, also applies to environmentally friendly behaviors,” said environmental psychology researcher Dr. Magnus Bergquist from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
A consequence of thinking that you are more environmentally friendly than others is that it can reduce the motivation to act environmentally friendly in the future, he noted.
The study also showed that when we think we are more environmentally friendly than others, we actually tend to become somewhat less environmentally friendly, he added.
One way to reduce the risk of over-optimism standing in the way of a real commitment to the environment is to try to have a more realistic view of our own environmental efforts, according to Bergquist.
“If you think about it logically, the majority cannot be more environmentally friendly than others,” he said. “One way to change this faulty opinion is to inform people that others actually behave environmentally friendly, and thereby creating an environmentally friendly norm. Social norms affect us also in this area. We know this from previous studies.”
The study was published in the Basic and Applied Social Psychology.
Source: University of Gothenburg