Major study to understand what prompts environmentally friendly behaviour

Major study to understand what prompts environmentally friendly behaviour

University of Aberdeen researchers are leading a major study to better understand what motivates people to act in an environmentally friendly way.

It is hoped the findings will pave the way for new understandings of how to encourage sustainable behaviour and help tackle global issues such as climate change, which may inform future policy-making.

The research will examine the links between a person’s love of nature, sense of well being, and the likelihood they will act in an environmentally friendly way.

Brain scanning to better understand these connections will be just one of a number of different methods of research undertaken in the project.

While in an MRI Scanner, volunteers will be shown images and listen to sounds from nature. 

The responses which occur in their brain will be recorded in a bid to gain an insight into the sense of positive well being which occurs when someone experiences images and sounds of nature.

Age related changes in brain function and how responses operate will also be examined through other research methods in the study, to understand how attitudes towards environmental behaviour may change over the course of a lifetime.

Professor of Rural & Environmental Sustainability at the University of Aberdeen Colin Hunter who will lead the study said: “In the face of important global and regional environmental problems, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and growing pressure on water and other natural resources, there is an urgent need to better understand factors that may influence the tendency of an individual to undertake environmentally friendly activities.

“Brain scanning to understand the positive emotional response in a person’s brain which images and sounds of nature provokes will be just one of the methods of research we will use in the study.

“We will also use other research techniques to examine what prompts members of the public, people who volunteer for environmental causes, and older people to undertake environmentally friendly behaviour.”

Experts from the University will work with 16 other researchers from the Macaulay Institute in Aberdeen, the University of Sheffield, VU University Amsterdam and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Academics from diverse subject areas - music, imaging, geography, psychology and computing science – will work together on the £200K study which is funded by the ESRC, BBSRS and MRC through the UIBEN programme.

Professor Hunter continues: “The project is unique in bringing researchers from across very diverse subject areas together to share expertise in a bid to better understand these connections.  Our findings will help develop a clearer picture of the factors which influence pro-environment behaviours and could in the long term help shape future policies in this area of global concern.”