Cognitive Dissonance and Sustainable Consumption

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - This paper deals with the propensity of environmentally friendly behavior to Aspill over@ from one behavioral domain to another and thus evolve into a sustainable consumption pattern (Th°gersen 1999). Cognitive dissonance is offered as a theoretical explanation for spillover. Based on this theory it is proposed that spillover is more likely if the behaviors in question are perceived as similar in a relevant sense and if behaving in a responsible way towards the environment is perceived as morally important. Mall-intercept survey data from the Danish town Aarhus are used to test the propositions by means of correlational methods. Measures are taken with regard to 15 different environment-friendly behaviors.



Citation:

John Thogersen (2002) ,"Cognitive Dissonance and Sustainable Consumption", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 72.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Page 72

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE AND SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION

John Thogersen, Aarhus School of Business, Denmark

[This paper is the result of collaborative research with Folke +lander, Aarhus School of Business, in the framework of Center for Social Science Research on the Environment (CeSaM), a multidisciplinary center based on collaboration among scholars from a number of Danish universities and other research institutions.]

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

This paper deals with the propensity of environmentally friendly behavior to "spill over" from one behavioral domain to another and thus evolve into a sustainable consumption pattern (Th°gersen 1999). Cognitive dissonance is offered as a theoretical explanation for spillover. Based on this theory it is proposed that spillover is more likely if the behaviors in question are perceived as similar in a relevant sense and if behaving in a responsible way towards the environment is perceived as morally important. Mall-intercept survey data from the Danish town Aarhus are used to test the propositions by means of correlational methods. Measures are taken with regard to 15 different environment-friendly behaviors.

The study in general finds rather low correlations between pairs of environment-friendly behavior. However, a confirmatory factor analysis of the analyzed behaviors indicates that there are clusters of behaviors, which "go together". Such clusters are termed "behavior categories." Based on the two behavior categories identified in the data set: recycling (different types of waste) and buying (different types of) organic food products, it is documented that the low correlation between pairs of behaviors to a high degree can be explained by the use of fallible measures. When correcting for measurement error, a significant correlation of substantial magnitude (r=.67) appears between these two behavior categories. Further, multigroup CFAs confirm that the correlation depends on both the perceived similarity of the two behaviors and how morally mportant it is for the person to act in an environment-friendly way. Tentative support for the hypothesis that the influence of the former depends on the latter is also obtained. All these results support the hypotheses derived from dissonance theory and, hence, the conjecture that the desire to avoid inconsistency (and cognitive dissonance) is an important factor shaping behavioral patterns in everyday life.

The analysis also points to important reasons why people often do not act consistently across behaviors (in the eyes of an outside observer). Most basically, seemingly inconsistent behavior patterns are often caused by the actors failing to perceive the behaviors as similar. Hence, they themselves see no inconsistency. In addition, inconsistency in a specific behavioral domain, such as the domain of environment-friendly behaviors, is less threatening to the self-concept of individuals who do not find these behaviors morally important. Because such people can more easily endure this particular type of inconsistency they are more likely to act inconsistently.

The study supports the proposition that a drive towards consistency facilitates the evolution of a sustainable consumption pattern. A number of prerequisites need to be in place for the cognitive dissonance mechanism to play this role, however. First and foremost, there have to be areas where the person knowingly and willingly behaves in an environment-friendly way. Hence, this mechanism cannot function until a process leading to sustainable consumption has already started in some domains. The establishment of ambitious recycling programs may have served this function in many countries (e.g., Berger 1997; Th°gersen 1999). Further, there has to be obvious opportunities for acting in an environment-friendly way in other behavioral domains. Cognitive dissonance may be unpleasant, but if the unpleasantness of the sacrifices needed in order to behave in an environment-friendly way are worse most people adopt other than behavioral means to resolve the dissonance or simply choose to live with their perceived behavioral inconsistency (Festinger 1957). Hence, from a spillover point of view, the most important policies for the evolution of a sustainable consumption pattern are those that facilitate the actual performance of environment-friendly behavior.

This study shows that a third prerequisite for cognitive dissonance based spillover to occur is that individuals are aware of relevant similarities between the environmentally significant behaviors. Basically, this means that consumers/citizens need to be educated about the environmental significance of our many everyday activities. To perform this task it is not only or primarily the advertising sector that is called for, but the whole education system as well as relevant content in the general media (+lander and Th°gersen 1995; Th°gersen 2000).

The study also shows that spillover is more likely when behaving in an environment-friendly way has a high personal normative significance. An important prerequisite of the development of personal norms is awareness of the consequences of one’s acts for other people and nature (Schwartz 1977). Hence, environmental education will also facilitate appropriate norm development. In addition, governments can send a strong signal about social norms in the environment field, and thus further facilitate norm development, by demonstrating high commitment to solve environmental problems in their choice of policy instruments and in their communication with the citizenry.

REFERENCES

Berger, Ida E. (1997), "The Demographics of Recycling and the Structure of Environmental Behavior," Environment and Behavior, 29, 515-531.

Festinger, L. (1957), A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Evanston: Row Peterson.

+lander, Folke and John Th°gersen (1995), "Understanding of Consumer Behaviour as a Prerequisite for Environmental Protection," Journal of Consumer Policy, 18, 317-357.

Schwartz, S.H. (1977), "Normative Influence on Altruism," in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 10, L. Berkowitz (Ed.), New York: Academic Press, 221-279.

Th°gersen, John(1999), "Spillover Processes in the Development of a Sustainable Consumption Pattern," Journal of Economic Psychology, 20, 53-81.

Th°gersen, John (2000), "Knowledge Barriers to Sustainable Consumption," in Marketing and Public Policy Conference Proceedings 2000, Vol. 10, Paula Fitzgerald Bone, Karen Russo France, and Josh Wiener (Eds.), Chicago: American Marketing Association, 29-39.

----------------------------------------

Authors

John Thogersen, Aarhus School of Business, Denmark



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More

Featured

L1. The Effects of Cultural Syndromes on Customers’ Responses to Service Failures: A Perspective-Flexibility-Based Mechanism

Vincent Chi Wong, Lingnan University
Robert Wyer Jr., University of Cincinnati, USA

Read More

Featured

E1. Effects of Recipients’ Emotional Expressions on Donors’ Preference for Helping with Development versus Survival

Xue Wang, University of Hong Kong
He (Michael) Jia, University of Hong Kong
Sara Kim, University of Hong Kong

Read More

Featured

The Effect of Future Focus on Self-Control is Moderated by Self-Efficacy

Rafay A Siddiqui, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Jane Park, University of California Riverside, USA
Frank May, Virginia Tech, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.