Acting green elicits a literal warm glow

Abstract

Environmental policies are often based on the assumption that people only act environmentally friendly if some extrinsic reward is implicated, usually money1,2. We argue that people might also be motivated by intrinsic rewards: doing the right thing (such as acting environmentally friendly) elicits psychological rewards in the form of positive feelings, a phenomenon known as warm glow3,4. Given the fact that people’s psychological state may affect their thermal state5,6, we expected that this warm glow could express itself quite literally: people who act environmentally friendly may perceive the temperature to be higher. In two studies, we found that people who learned they acted environmentally friendly perceived a higher temperature than people who learned they acted environmentally unfriendly. The underlying psychological mechanism pertains to the self-concept: learning you acted environmentally friendly signals to yourself that you are a good person. Together, our studies show that acting environmentally friendly can be psychologically rewarding, suggesting that appealing to intrinsic rewards can be an alternative way to encourage pro-environmental actions.

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Figure 1: Means of temperature perception (including standard error bars; Study 1).
Figure 2: Skin temperature change among women (Study 1).
Figure 3: Means of temperature perception (including standard error bars; Study 2).
Figure 4: Mediation model: positive self-signal (Study 2).

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Acknowledgements

This research was conducted as part of the INTEWON project (EOS LT 10033), funded by Agentschap NL.

Author information

D.T. developed the study concept. All authors contributed to the study design. D.T. performed the data analysis and interpretation under the supervision of J.W.B. and L.S. D.T. drafted the manuscript, and J.W.B. and L.S. provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

Correspondence to Danny Taufik.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Taufik, D., Bolderdijk, J. & Steg, L. Acting green elicits a literal warm glow. Nature Clim Change 5, 37–40 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2449

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