Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Most people think they are more environmentally friendly than others – they’re wrong

Most people think they are more environmentally friendly than others – they’re wrong
05 Mar
2020
Most people think they are more environmentally friendly than others. Most people are wrong...

Humans are a remarkably optimistic and confident bunch. In psychological circles this is not just conjecture but a proven phenomenon known as the ‘better than average effect’ (BTAE). Academic research has demonstrated that people consistently think they are better than the average person when it comes to driving, teaching, athletic ability, leadership skills and social skills. People rate themselves as more honest, persistent and original than average; they also overestimate their likelihood of being right.

Get Geographical delivered to your door!
signup buttonGeographical has been in print since 1935, during which time we have reported on many thousands of global issues, allowing readers to look past the boundaries and borders of their world. Our monthly print magazine costs £9.50 for three months, or £38 for a year. We hope you will conisder joining us. 

A new set of studies has now demonstrated that BTAE also applies to people’s perception of their environmental credentials. The research, conducted at the University of Gothenburg, reveals that out of 4,000 survey participants from Sweden, the United States, England and India, the majority were convinced that they acted more environmentally friendly than the average person – a mathematical impossibility.

The researchers tested this using two methods, known as direct and indirect. For the former (used in Sweden) people were simply asked whether they thought they were more or less environmentally friendly than others in their country. The indirect approach (used for the other countries) involved asking participants about specific behaviours, such as buying green products, turning off taps when brushing teeth and taking a reusable bag to the shops.

Both methods demonstrated the effect in action. The percentage of people rating their own pro-environmental engagement as above average was 75.3 per cent in the total sample of Indians, English and Americans (85.7 per cent in the Indian sample, 72 per cent in the English sample, and 63.7 per cent in the US sample). When it came to specific behaviours, the effect was found to hold for nine out of ten pro-environmental behaviours tested. In the Swedish study, 51.3 per cent of the sample perceived themselves as more pro-environmental than others.

The risk of BTAE is that if everyone already thinks they are doing so well, it could mean that people feel less obliged to step up their game in the future. The research did not show a strong risk of this, but environmental psychology researcher Magnus Bergquist points out that even a small effect in this regard could have a large impact across whole societies. ‘From a theoretical perspective, this effect is very small,’ he says. ‘But on the other hand, you need to think about the effect from an applied perspective. Even a small effect could be important if you scale this up on a societal level.’

Stay connected with the Geographical newsletter!
signup buttonIn these turbulent times, we’re committed to telling expansive stories from across the globe, highlighting the everyday lives of normal but extraordinary people. Stay informed and engaged with Geographical.

Get Geographical’s latest news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!

Related items

Julysub 2020

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

DurhamBath Spa600x200 Greenwich Aberystwythherts

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Rewilding projects across Europe are working to expand populations of…

Wildlife

Scientists are racing to prevent a deadly disease that kills…

Wildlife

Birds are a much-loved component of the natural world, serenading…

Tectonics

The unprecedented pause in human activity that took place during…

Wildlife

Since 2006, tiger habitats have shrunk by more than 40…

Climate

Advances in space-based lightning mapping have allowed scientists to measure…

Energy

The amount of energy used by the wealthy minority dwarfs…

Wildlife

Left denuded and depleted of wildlife following a decades-long civil…

Climate

Katie Burton explores the practicalities and ethics of geoengineering, the…

Energy

Though the pandemic has gripped the world's attention, lying just…

Climate

The IPCC embraced the notion of carbon offset schemes in…

Geophoto

The shortlist for the 2020 Wellcome Photography Prize has been…

Climate

Millions have been displaced due to severe floods in central…

Wildlife

A portable DNA assay could revolutionise the way border officials…

Climate

A handy gathering of facts about carbon emissions with graphs…

Oceans

Researchers have revealed just how many polluting microfibres are released…

Wildlife

Increasing reports of seized jaguar fangs and skin suggest that…

Geophoto

Forced isolation has given many of us the chance to…

Oceans

A fifth of the ocean floor has now been mapped,…