Observing the Earth from Space: Does Experiencing the Overview Effect Increase Sustainable Consumption?

Femke van Horen, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Award Amount: $2,000


Astronauts (and recently businessmen) often express a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment after observing the overwhelming beauty of earth from space. Whether experiencing this “overview effect” has the potential to directly impact sustainable behavior has however never been tested. We argue that experiencing the overview effect influences sustainable consumption due to an increased sense of interconnectivity with earth and by making consumers to see “the bigger picture”, helping them to realize the scope of the climate change problem. Two virtual reality studies will systematically test whether experiencing the overview effect influences short- and long-term sustainable consumer behaviors (i.e., meat and dairy consumption) in a controlled experimental setting. Furthermore, we will test the mediating role of connectedness with earth and nature. Finally, we will investigate whether interpersonal discussions about global warming directly after the overview effect experience strengthens the effect. The outcomes of this research will provide new insights first and foremost on how consumers can be urged to make more sustainable choices. Furthermore, developing interventions that allow us to create immersive and impactful experiences that are normally difficult to access, like the overview effect, can be used for businesses, public education campaigns, and governmental policy, to increase environmental awareness and action among managers, children, and society at large.

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