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When A+B < A: Cognitive bias in experts' judgment of environmental impact
University of Gävle, Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Department of Building, Energy and Environmental Engineering, Environmental psychology. (Miljöpsykologi)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8442-8324
University of Gävle, Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Department of Building, Energy and Environmental Engineering, Energy system.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2171-3013
University of Gävle, Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Department of Building, Energy and Environmental Engineering, Environmental psychology. School of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, United Kingdom.
University of Gävle, Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Department of Building, Energy and Environmental Engineering, Environmental psychology. (Miljöpsykologi)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7584-2275
2018 (English)In: Frontiers in Psychology, ISSN 1664-1078, E-ISSN 1664-1078, Vol. 9, article id 823Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

When ‘environmentally friendly’ items are added to a set of conventional items, people report that the total set will have a lower environmental impact even though the actual impact increases. One hypothesis is that this “negative footprint illusion” arises because people, who are susceptible to the illusion, lack necessary knowledge of the item’s actual environmental impact, perhaps coupled with a lack of mathematical skills. The study reported here addressed this hypothesis by recruiting participants (‘experts’) from a master’s program in energy systems, who thus have bachelor degrees in energy-related fields including academic training in mathematics. They were asked to estimate the number of trees needed to compensate for the environmental burden of two sets of buildings: One set of 150 buildings with conventional energy ratings and one set including the same 150 buildings but also 50 ‘green’ (energy-efficient) buildings. The experts reported that less trees were needed to compensate for the set with 150 conventional and 50 ‘green’ buildings compared to the set with only the 150 conventional buildings. This negative footprint illusion was as large in magnitude for the experts as it was for a group of novices without academic training in energy-related fields. We conclude that people are not immune to the negative footprint illusion even when they have the knowledge necessary to make accurate judgments.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018. Vol. 9, article id 823
Keywords [en]
averaging bias, Climate Change, Environmental impact, Judgment, Negative footprint illusion
National Category
Applied Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-26530DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00823ISI: 000433393500002PubMedID: 29896142Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85047665372OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hig-26530DiVA, id: diva2:1203238
Available from: 2018-05-02 Created: 2018-05-02 Last updated: 2020-02-19Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. A Negative Footprint Illusion in Environmental Impact Estimates
Open this publication in new window or tab >>A Negative Footprint Illusion in Environmental Impact Estimates
2020 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

A major part of anthropogenic climate change is due to everyday human behavior, such as transportation, food and energy consumption. As a result, it has been argued that many barriers for mitigating climate change are psychological in nature. For example, people’s decisions and behaviors are subject to heuristics and biases which sometime harm our decisions. The benchmark of the present thesis is the finding that people believe that adding environmentally friendly items to a set of conventional items reduces the impact of the whole set. This phenomenon has been coined a negative footprint illusion (NFI). How robust is this effect, is it generalizable across judgmental dimensions and what is the mechanism that underpins the effect? This thesis concerns these three questions. Paper 1 found support for the assumption that an averaging bias underpins the NFI. On this view, the NFI appears because people intuitively respond with the average of the ‘vices’ (the unfriendly objects) and ‘virtues’ (the more environmentally friendly objects) in the combined set of objects. Paper 2 demonstrated that the NFI is insensitive to some levels of expertise. Furthermore, Paper 2 also reported the first demonstration of the NFI in the context of a within-participants design. Paper 3 found that a NFI can also be demonstrated in the context of atmospheric CO2 concentration estimates. Paper 3 also reported further evidence for the averaging bias account of the NFI and showed that the effect is at least insensitive to some variations in the framing of the problem posed to the participants. Paper 4 demonstrated that the NFI can be eliminated by priming a summative mindset before requesting participants to make the environmental impact estimates. Taken together, this thesis shows that the NFI is a robust phenomenon that can be found across various to-be-estimated stimulus materials, it appears to be underpinned by an averaging bias but can be cognitively controlled in certain conditions.

Abstract [sv]

Klimatförändringarna påverkas till stor del av mänskliga beteenden, till exempel transport, mat- och energikonsumtion. Därför argumenterar ett flertal forskare för att flera barriärer för att bromsa klimatförändringarna är av psykologisk natur, snarare än teknologisk. Klimatförändringarna är till exempel beroende av hur vi människor fattar beslut, vilka i sin tur påverkas av heuristiker och kognitiva snedvridningar som ibland vilseleder vårt beslutsfattande. Den här avhandlingen studerar ett fenomen som innebär att människor ofta tror att om man lägger till ett miljövänligt objekt till en samling konventionella objekt minskar det totala koldioxidavtrycket totalt sett, ett fenomen som kallas för ”den negativa fotavtrycksillusionen” (NFI). Hur robust är den här effekten, kan den generaliseras till andra bedömningsdimensioner och vilken mekanism ger upphov till effekten? Avhandlingen behandlar dessa frågor. Artikel 1 ger stöd för att en genomsnittsprocess orsakar NFI. Mer specifikt, NFI uppstår för att människor intuitivt svarar med genomsnittet av de icke miljövänliga objekten tillsammans med de miljövänliga objekten. Artikel 2 visade att NFI är relativt okänslig för expertis och att illusionen uppstår även när människor kan jämföra sina estimat av olika objektsamlingar. Artikel 3 fann att NFI även kan uppstå i en kontext där deltagarna ombeds skatta den atmosfäriska koldioxidkoncentrationen. Artikel 3 gav också ytterligare stöd för att en genomsnittsprocess ger upphov till illusionen och demonstrerade att illusionen åtminstone till del är okänslig för hur bedömningsproblemen är presenterade för deltagarna. Artikel 4 visade att NFI kan elimineras genom att prima ett additivt tankesätt innan deltagarna gör bedömningen. Avhandlingen visar sammanfattningsvis att NFI är ett robust fenomen som uppstår för flera stimulusmaterial, att en genomsnittsprocess tycks ge upphov till NFI och demonstrerar att effekten kan kontrolleras kognitivt i vissa situationer.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Gävle: Gävle University Press, 2020. p. 40
Series
Doctoral thesis ; 14
Keywords
The negative footprint illusion, averaging bias, environmental impact estimates, decision-making, climate change, Den negativa fotavtryckillusionen, genomsnittsprocess, miljöpåverkan, beslutsfattande, klimatförändringarna
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-31920 (URN)978-91-88145-42-0 (ISBN)978-91-88145-43-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2020-04-22, 12:108, Kungsbäcksvägen 47, Gävle, 13:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2020-04-01 Created: 2020-02-19 Last updated: 2020-04-02Bibliographically approved

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Holmgren, MattiasKabanshi, AlanMarsh, John E.Sörqvist, Patrik

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