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A Negative Footprint Illusion in Environmental Impact Estimates
University of Gävle, Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Department of Building Engineering, Energy Systems and Sustainability Science, Environmental Science.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8442-8324
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 [en]
The negative footprint illusion, averaging bias, environmental impact estimates, decision-making, climate change
Keywords [sv]
Den negativa fotavtryckillusionen, genomsnittsprocess, miljöpåverkan, beslutsfattande, klimatförändringarna
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-31920ISBN: 978-91-88145-42-0 (print)ISBN: 978-91-88145-43-7 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hig-31920DiVA, id: diva2:1394699
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
List of papers
1. Averaging bias in environmental impact estimates: Evidence from the negative footprint illusion
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Averaging bias in environmental impact estimates: Evidence from the negative footprint illusion
2018 (English)In: Journal of Environmental Psychology, ISSN 0272-4944, E-ISSN 1522-9610, Vol. 55, p. 48-52Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In this paper we argue that unsustainable behaviors often stem from a common averaging bias when people estimate the environmental impact of a set of environmentally friendly and less friendly objects or actions. In Experiment 1, we show that people believe that the total carbon footprint of a category of items (a community of buildings in this case) is lower, rather than higher, when environmentally friendly (“green” buildings) items are added to the category, a negative footprint illusion. Experiment 2 showed  that the carbon footprint estimate assigned to a category with a mix of environmentally friendly and less friendly objects (“green” and conventional  buildings) is the average of its subsets (the “green” buildings and the  conventional buildings, respectively), an averaging bias. A similar averaging  process may underpin estimates of the environmental impact of people's own actions, explaining why people believe that environmentally friendly actions can compensate for less friendly actions.

Keywords
“Green” buildings, Averaging bias Carbon footprint, The negative footprint illusion
National Category
Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-25882 (URN)10.1016/j.jenvp.2017.12.005 (DOI)000428489200006 ()2-s2.0-85038968856 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2017-12-20 Created: 2017-12-20 Last updated: 2020-02-19Bibliographically approved
2. When A+B < A: Cognitive bias in experts' judgment of environmental impact
Open this publication in new window or tab >>When A+B < A: Cognitive bias in experts' judgment of environmental impact
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.

Keywords
averaging bias, Climate Change, Environmental impact, Judgment, Negative footprint illusion
National Category
Applied Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-26530 (URN)10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00823 (DOI)000433393500002 ()29896142 (PubMedID)2-s2.0-85047665372 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2018-05-02 Created: 2018-05-02 Last updated: 2020-02-19Bibliographically approved
3. Deceptive sustainability: Cognitive bias in people's judgment of the benefits of CO2 emission cuts
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Deceptive sustainability: Cognitive bias in people's judgment of the benefits of CO2 emission cuts
Show others...
2019 (English)In: Journal of Environmental Psychology, ISSN 0272-4944, E-ISSN 1522-9610, Vol. 64, p. 48-55Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

People's beliefs in the actions necessary to reduce anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are important to public policy acceptability. The current paper addressed beliefs concerning how periods of small emission cuts contribute to the total CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, by asking participants to rate the atmospheric CO2 concentration for various time periods and emission rates. The participants thought that a time period with higher emission rates combined with a period of lower emission rates generates less atmospheric CO2 in total, compared to the period with high emission rates alone – demonstrating a negative footprint illusion (Study 1). The participants appeared to base their CO2 estimates on the average, rather than on the accumulated sum, of the two periods' emissions – i.e. an averaging bias (Study 2). Moreover, the effect was robust to the wordings of the problem presented to the participants (Study 3). Together, these studies suggest that the averaging bias makes people exaggerate the benefits of small emission cuts. The averaging bias could make people willing to accept policies that reduce emission rates although insufficiently to alleviate global warming.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2019
Keywords
Climate change; Global warming; Averaging bias; Negative footprint illusion
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-29596 (URN)10.1016/j.jenvp.2019.05.005 (DOI)000484869600006 ()2-s2.0-85066452463 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2019-05-24 Created: 2019-05-24 Last updated: 2020-02-19Bibliographically approved
4. Eliminating the Negative Footprint Illusion by Fostering a Summative Mindset using a Transfer Paradigm
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Eliminating the Negative Footprint Illusion by Fostering a Summative Mindset using a Transfer Paradigm
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

People’s belief that an environmentally friendly item that is added to a set of conventional items has the ability to reduce the total environmental impact of these items could lead to unwanted environmental consequences. An averaging bias seems to underpin this negative footprint illusion: people make their estimates based on the average of the environmental impact produced by the items rather than their accumulative sum. We report a study using a problem-solving transfer paradigm to explore if this preoccupation to think in terms of an average can be eliminated by fostering a summative mindset. The results demonstrate that, participants can correctly estimate that environmental impact will increase when a “green” car is added to a set of petrol cars, but only when this task is preceded by a task that engenders a summation judgment. Our evidence indicates that the negative footprint illusion can be tempered by problem-solving transfer whereby a primed concept (summation) is used adaptively on subsequent judgments, thereby correcting for bias in environmental judgments.    

Keywords
negative footprint illusion; averaging bias; problem-solving transfer; priming
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-31919 (URN)
Available from: 2020-02-19 Created: 2020-02-19 Last updated: 2020-02-21Bibliographically approved

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