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 We coded 22 studies and unpublished data that fulfilled the following criteria: used experimental or quasi-experimental design, showed change in a PEB1 and measured at least one PEB2.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 optionsAccess options
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.67 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
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: https://osf.io/x3ku2/.
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).
Vandenbergh, M. P., Carrico, A. R. & Bressman, L. S. Regulation in the behavioral era. Minn. Law Rev. 95, 715–781 (2011).
Thaler, R. H. & Sunstein, C. R. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Penguin Books, 2009).
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).
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).
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).
Janssen, W. Seat-belt wearing and driving behavior: an instrumented-vehicle study. Accid. Anal. Prev. 26, 249–251 (1994).
Thøgersen, J. Spillover processes in the development of a sustainable consumption pattern. J. Econ. Psychol. 20, 53–81 (1999).
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).
Gillingham, K., Kotchen, M. J., Rapson, D. S. & Wagner, G. Energy policy: the rebound effect is overplayed. Nature 493, 475–476 (2013).
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).
Nash, N. et al. Climate-relevant behavioral spillover and the potential contributions of social practice theory. WIREs Clim. Change 8, e481 (2017).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
Thomas, G. O., Poortinga, W. & Sautkina, E. The Welsh single-use carrier bag charge and behavioural spillover. J. Environ. Psychol. 47, 126–135 (2016).
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).
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).
Ajzen, I. The theory of planned behavior. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis Process. 50, 179–211 (1991).
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).
Franco, A., Malhotra, N. & Simonovits, G. Publication bias in the social sciences: unlocking the file drawer. Science 345, 1502–1504 (2014).
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).
Cohn, L. D. & Becker, B. J. How meta-analysis increases statistical power. Psychol. Methods 8, 243–253 (2003).
Hedges, L. V. Estimation of effect size from a series of independent experiments. Psychol. Bull. 92, 490–499 (1982).
Armitage, C. J. & Conner, M. Efficacy of the theory of planned behaviour: a meta-analytic review. Br. J. Soc. Psychol. 40, 471–499 (2001).
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).
Bem, D. J. Self-perception: an alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena. Psychol. Rev. 74, 183–200 (1967).
Festinger, L. & Carlsmith, J. M. Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. J. Abnorm. Soc. Psychol. 58, 203–210 (1959).
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).
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).
Ryan, M. R. & Deci, E. L. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: classic definitions and new directions. Contemp. Educ. Psychol. 25, 54–67 (2000).
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).
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).
Stern, P. C. New environmental theories: toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. J. Soc. Issues 56, 407–424 (2000).
Blanken, I., van de Ven, N. & Zeelenberg, M. A meta-analytic review of moral licensing. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 41, 540–558 (2015).
Lanzini, P. & Thøgersen, J. Behavioural spillover in the environmental domain: an intervention study. J. Environ. Psychol. 40, 381–390 (2014).
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).
Truelove, H. B. & Gillis, A. J. Perception of pro-environmental behavior. Glob. Environ. Change 49, 175–185 (2018).
Margetts, E. A. & Kashima, Y. Spillover between pro-environmental behaviours: the role of resources and perceived similarity. J. Environ. Psychol. 49, 30–42 (2017).
Thøgersen, J. A cognitive dissonance interpretation of consistencies and inconsistencies in environmentally responsible behavior. J. Environ. Psychol. 24, 93–103 (2004).
Affuso, O. et al. Validity of self-reported leisure-time sedentary behavior in adolescents. J. Negat. Results Biomed. 10, 2 (2011).
Cumming, G. The new statistics: why and how. Psychol. Sci. 25, 7–29 (2014).
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).
Magnusson, K. Interpreting Cohen’s d effect size: an interactive visualization. R Psychologist http://rpsychologist.com/d3/cohend/ (2014).
Ruscio, J. A probability-based measure of effect size: robustness to base rates and other factors. Psychol. Methods 13, 19–30 (2008).
Maniates, M. F. Individualization: plant a tree, buy a bike, save the world? Glob. Environ. Polit. 1, 31–52 (2001).
A Framework for Pro-environmental Behaviors (Defra, 2008).
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).
Osbaldiston, R. & Schott, J. Environmental sustainability and behavioral science: meta-analysis of pro-environmental behavior experiments. Environ. Behav. 44, 257–299 (2012).
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).
Kaiser, F. G. A general measure of ecological behavior. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 28, 395–422 (1998).
Abrahamse, W. & Steg, L. Social influence approaches to encourage resource conservation: a meta-analysis. Glob. Environ. Change 23, 1773–1785 (2013).
Karlin, B., Zinger, J. F. & Ford, R. The effects of feedback on energy conservation: a meta-analysis. Psychol. Bull. 141, 1205–1227 (2015).
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).
Stata Statistical Software: Release 15 (StataCorp, 2017).
Cohen, J. A power primer. Psychol. Bull. 112, 155–159 (1992).
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.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Supplementary methods, Supplementary references, Supplementary analyses, Supplementary Tables 1–6, Supplementary Figs. 1–3
About this article
Climatic Change (2019)
We should not separate out environmental issues, but the current approach to plastic pollution can be a distraction from meaningful action. A response to Avery-Gomm et al.
Marine Policy (2019)