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Comparing the effectiveness of monetary versus moral motives in environmental campaigning


Environmental campaigns often promote energy conservation by appealing to economic (for example, lower electricity bills) rather than biospheric concerns (for example, reduced carbon emissions), assuming that people are primarily motivated by economic self-interest. However, people also care about maintaining a favourable view of themselves (they want to maintain a ‘positive self-concept’), and may prefer to see themselves as ‘green’ rather than ‘greedy’. Consequently, people may find economic appeals less attractive than biospheric appeals. Across two studies, participants indicated feeling better about biospheric (‘Want to protect the environment? Check your car’s tire pressure’) than economic (‘Want to save money? Check your car’s tire pressure’) tyre-check appeals. In a field experiment, we found that an economic tyre-check appeal (‘Do you care about your finances? Get a free tire check’) elicited significantly less compliance than parallel biospheric and neutral appeals. Together, these studies discredit the conventional wisdom that appealing to economic self-interest is the best way to secure behaviour change. At least in some cases, our studies suggest, this strategy is not effective.

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The manuscript has benefited from suggestions by K. E. Keizer and M. Keizer. We thank C. Furrow, L. Petersen, A. Dokter, G. Perlaviciute and B. Unal for their help with collecting data.

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J.W.B. and L.S. designed Study 1. J.W.B., L.S. and T.P. designed Study 2. J.W.B., E.S.G. and P.K.L. designed Study 3. J.W.B. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript; all authors commented. J.W.B. and L.S. supervised the project.

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Correspondence to J. W. Bolderdijk.

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Bolderdijk, J., Steg, L., Geller, E. et al. Comparing the effectiveness of monetary versus moral motives in environmental campaigning. Nature Clim Change 3, 413–416 (2013).

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