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You Want People to Do the Right Thing? Save Them the Guilt Trip

Claudia R. Schneider: In a study that my colleagues and I conducted at Columbia University in New York, we set out to test the consequences of positive versus negative self-directed emotions. Participants were prompted to think about either how guilty they felt about non-environmentally friendly behavior, or how proud they might be for acting to preserve the environment. They were then asked a range of questions, such as whether they would pay increased rent to have more energy-efficient appliances, how likely they were to take public transport, and whether they’d be willing to use reusable shopping bags and mugs. Those participants who had been thinking of how proud they would feel about themselves chose to have a higher number of energy-efficient appliances compared with those participants who had been asked to think about personal guilt. Furthermore, participants in the pride group expressed higher intentions to engage in green behaviors compared with those in the guilt group. These findings suggest that inducing people to consider positive rather than negative self-directed emotions might recruit more people to a climate-change mitigation agenda, and to prosocial behavior more broadly.

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