Meta-analysis of pro-environmental behaviour spillover


When people engage in a first pro-environmental behaviour (PEB1; for example, conserving energy at home), are they more or less likely (positive and negative spillover, respectively) to engage in other pro-environmental behaviours (‘PEB2’; for example, conserving water at home)? We examined evidence for spillover using a meta-analysis of interventions. We coded 22 studies and unpublished data that fulfilled the following criteria: used experimental or quasi-experimental design, showed change in a PEB1 and measured at least one PEB2. Analysis of the 77 effect sizes found in these studies showed that the overall spillover from a PEB1 was positive, though small, on the intention to perform a PEB2 (pooled mean effect size estimate d+ = 0.17). However, the spillover effect was negative and small for actual behaviour (d+ = −0.03) and policy support (d+ = −0.01) for PEB2. Positive spillover was most likely when interventions targeted intrinsic motivation and when PEB1 and PEB2 were similar. Future research in the area should target and measure spillover processes, collect larger samples and statistically test for spillover in more consistent ways.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2: Forest plot of PEB2 intention effect sizes.
Fig. 3: Forest plot of PEB2 behaviour effect sizes.
Fig. 4: Forest plot of PEB2 policy support effect sizes.

Data availability

The data for all of the coding of the articles, including variables not explored in the present paper, can be found publicly at the following site:


  1. 1.

    Dietz, T., Gardner, G. T., Gilligan, J., Stern, P. C. & Vandenbergh, M. P. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 18452–18456 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Vandenbergh, M. P., Carrico, A. R. & Bressman, L. S. Regulation in the behavioral era. Minn. Law Rev. 95, 715–781 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Thaler, R. H. & Sunstein, C. R. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Penguin Books, 2009).

  4. 4.

    Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C. & Rothengatter, T. A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation. J. Environ. Psychol. 25, 273–291 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Carrico, A. R. & Riemer, M. Motivating energy conversation in the workplace: an evaluation of the use of group-level feedback and peer education. J. Environ. Psychol. 31, 1–13 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Schultz, P. W., Nolan, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J. & Griskevicius, V. The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychol. Sci. 18, 429–434 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Janssen, W. Seat-belt wearing and driving behavior: an instrumented-vehicle study. Accid. Anal. Prev. 26, 249–251 (1994).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Thøgersen, J. Spillover processes in the development of a sustainable consumption pattern. J. Econ. Psychol. 20, 53–81 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Truelove, H. B., Carrico, A. R., Weber, E. U., Raimi, K. T. & Vandenbergh, M. P. Positive and negative spillover of pro-environmental behavior: an integrated review and theoretical framework. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 127–138 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Gillingham, K., Kotchen, M. J., Rapson, D. S. & Wagner, G. Energy policy: the rebound effect is overplayed. Nature 493, 475–476 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Lauren, N., Fielding, K. S., Smith, L. & Louis, W. R. You did, so you can and you will: self-efficacy as a mediator of spillover from easy to more difficult pro-environmental behavior. J. Environ. Psychol. 48, 191–199 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Nash, N. et al. Climate-relevant behavioral spillover and the potential contributions of social practice theory. WIREs Clim. Change 8, e481 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Nilsson, A., Bergquist, M. & Schultz, W. P. Spillover effects in environmental behaviors, across time and context: a review and research agenda. Environ. Educ. Res. 23, 573–589 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Sintov, N. D., Geislar, S. & White, L. Cognitive accessibility as a new factor in proenvironmental spillover: results from a field study of household food waste management. Environ. Behav. 51, 50–80 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Carrico, A. R., Raimi, K. T., Truelove, H. B. & Eby, B. Putting your money where your mouth is: an experimental test of pro-environmental spillover from reducing meat consumption to monetary donations. Environ. Behav. 50, 723–748 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Baca-Motes, K., Brown, A., Gneezy, A., Keenan, K. A. & Nelson, L. D. Commitment and behavior change: evidence from the field. J. Consum. Res. 39, 1070–1084 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Steinhorst, J., Klöckner, C. A. & Matthies, E. Saving electricity—for the money or the environment? Risks of limiting pro-environmental spillover when using monetary framing. J. Environ. Psychol. 43, 125–135 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Thomas, G. O., Poortinga, W. & Sautkina, E. The Welsh single-use carrier bag charge and behavioural spillover. J. Environ. Psychol. 47, 126–135 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Lacasse, K. Don’t be satisfied, identify! Strengthening positive spillover by connecting pro-environmental behaviors to an “environmentalist” label. J. Environ. Psychol. 48, 149–158 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Truelove, H. B., Yeung, K. L., Carrico, A. R., Gillis, A. J. & Raimi, K. T. From plastic bottle recycling to policy support: an experimental test of pro-environmental spillover. J. Environ. Psychol. 46, 55–66 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Ajzen, I. The theory of planned behavior. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis Process. 50, 179–211 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Ferguson, C. J. & Heene, M. A vast graveyard of undead theories: publication bias and psychological science’s aversion to the null. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 7, 555–561 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Franco, A., Malhotra, N. & Simonovits, G. Publication bias in the social sciences: unlocking the file drawer. Science 345, 1502–1504 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Kühberger, A., Fritz, A. & Scherndl, T. Publication bias in psychology: a diagnosis based on the correlation between effect size and sample size. PLoS ONE 9, e105825 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Cohn, L. D. & Becker, B. J. How meta-analysis increases statistical power. Psychol. Methods 8, 243–253 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Hedges, L. V. Estimation of effect size from a series of independent experiments. Psychol. Bull. 92, 490–499 (1982).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Armitage, C. J. & Conner, M. Efficacy of the theory of planned behaviour: a meta-analytic review. Br. J. Soc. Psychol. 40, 471–499 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Sheeran, P. et al. The impact of changing attitudes, norms, and self-efficacy on health-related intentions and behavior: a meta-analysis. Health Psychol. 35, 1178–1188 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Bem, D. J. Self-perception: an alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena. Psychol. Rev. 74, 183–200 (1967).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Festinger, L. & Carlsmith, J. M. Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. J. Abnorm. Soc. Psychol. 58, 203–210 (1959).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Van der Werff, E., Steg, L. & Keizer, K. Follow the signal: when past pro-environmental actions signal who you are. J. Environ. Psychol. 40, 273–282 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Van der Werff, E., Steg, L. & Keizer, K. I am what I am, by looking past the present: the influence of biospheric values and past behavior on environmental self-identity. Environ. Behav. 46, 626–657 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Ryan, M. R. & Deci, E. L. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: classic definitions and new directions. Contemp. Educ. Psychol. 25, 54–67 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Bamberg, S. & Möser, G. Twenty years after Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera: a new meta-analysis of psych-social determinants of pro-environmental behaviour. J. Environ. Psychol. 27, 14–25 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Steg, L., Dreijerink, L. & Abrahamse, W. Factors influencing the acceptability of energy policies: a test of VBN theory. J. Environ. Psychol. 25, 415–425 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Stern, P. C. New environmental theories: toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. J. Soc. Issues 56, 407–424 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Blanken, I., van de Ven, N. & Zeelenberg, M. A meta-analytic review of moral licensing. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 41, 540–558 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Lanzini, P. & Thøgersen, J. Behavioural spillover in the environmental domain: an intervention study. J. Environ. Psychol. 40, 381–390 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Gneezy, A., Imas, A., Brown, A., Nelson, L. D. & Norton, M. I. Paying to be nice: consistency and costly prosocial behavior. Manage. Sci. 58, 179–187 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Truelove, H. B. & Gillis, A. J. Perception of pro-environmental behavior. Glob. Environ. Change 49, 175–185 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Margetts, E. A. & Kashima, Y. Spillover between pro-environmental behaviours: the role of resources and perceived similarity. J. Environ. Psychol. 49, 30–42 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Thøgersen, J. A cognitive dissonance interpretation of consistencies and inconsistencies in environmentally responsible behavior. J. Environ. Psychol. 24, 93–103 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Affuso, O. et al. Validity of self-reported leisure-time sedentary behavior in adolescents. J. Negat. Results Biomed. 10, 2 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Cumming, G. The new statistics: why and how. Psychol. Sci. 25, 7–29 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Goh, J. X., Hall, J. A. & Rosenthal, R. Mini meta-analysis of your own studies: some arguments on why and a primer on how. Soc. Pers. Psychol. Compass 10, 535–549 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Magnusson, K. Interpreting Cohen’s d effect size: an interactive visualization. R Psychologist (2014).

  47. 47.

    Ruscio, J. A probability-based measure of effect size: robustness to base rates and other factors. Psychol. Methods 13, 19–30 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Maniates, M. F. Individualization: plant a tree, buy a bike, save the world? Glob. Environ. Polit. 1, 31–52 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    A Framework for Pro-environmental Behaviors (Defra, 2008).

  50. 50.

    Maki, A. & Rothman, A. J. Understanding proenvironmental intentions and behaviors: the importance of considering both the behavior setting and type of behavior. J. Soc. Psychol. 157, 517–531 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Osbaldiston, R. & Schott, J. Environmental sustainability and behavioral science: meta-analysis of pro-environmental behavior experiments. Environ. Behav. 44, 257–299 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., Altman, D. G. & The PRISMA Group. Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. PLOS Med. 6, e100097 (2009).

  53. 53.

    Kaiser, F. G. A general measure of ecological behavior. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 28, 395–422 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Abrahamse, W. & Steg, L. Social influence approaches to encourage resource conservation: a meta-analysis. Glob. Environ. Change 23, 1773–1785 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Karlin, B., Zinger, J. F. & Ford, R. The effects of feedback on energy conservation: a meta-analysis. Psychol. Bull. 141, 1205–1227 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Lokhorst, A. M., Werner, C., Staats, H., Van Dijk, E. & Gale, J. L. Commitment and behavior change: a meta-analysis and critical review of commitment-making strategies in environmental research. Environ. Behav. 45, 3–34 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Stata Statistical Software: Release 15 (StataCorp, 2017).

  58. 58.

    Cohen, J. A power primer. Psychol. Bull. 112, 155–159 (1992).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank R. Davis and N. Lee-Ammons for assistance with data collection/coding, and all of the generous researchers who helped with the coding of their data/manuscripts/articles. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant number SES-1325660), Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment, Vanderbilt Climate Change Research Network and Vanderbilt University Trans-Institutional Program.

Author information




A.M., A.R.C., K.T.R., H.B.T. and K.L.Y. contributed to study conceptualization and results interpretation. A.M., B.A. and K.L.Y. contributed to data collection/coding. A.M. analysed the data. A.M., A.R.C., K.T.R., H.B.T., B.A. and K.L.Y. drafted the manuscript. A.R.C., K.T.R. and H.B.T. contributed to funding.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexander Maki.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary methods, Supplementary references, Supplementary analyses, Supplementary Tables 1–6, Supplementary Figs. 1–3

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Maki, A., Carrico, A.R., Raimi, K.T. et al. Meta-analysis of pro-environmental behaviour spillover. Nat Sustain 2, 307–315 (2019).

Download citation

Further reading


Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing