, Volume 48, Issue 6, pp 605–618 | Cite as

Navigating cognition biases in the search of sustainability

  • John-Oliver EnglerEmail author
  • David J. Abson
  • Henrik von Wehrden


We provide a conceptual review of the available knowledge on the role of human cognition biases for sustainability and sustainable behavior. Human cognition biases are defined as any deviation in decision making from the standard framework of rational choice. We distinguish between biases in individual decision making and biases in group decision making, and highlight the relevance of each for sustainable behavior. We find that while both categories may contribute to unsustainable behavior, human cognition biases in group settings might be central to understanding many of the current sustainability issues. Moreover, we argue that the effects of group-related biases may outweigh those on the individual level in driving unsustainable behavior, and that biases that have been discussed under various labels in the literature can be interpreted as manifestations of human cognition biases in group settings.


Environmental decision making Human cognition biases Rational choice Sustainable behavior 



The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the State of Lower Saxony (Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur) and the Volkswagen Foundation in line with the research projects “Bridging the Great Divide” (Grant Number 11300011, JOE and HvW) and “Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation: Institutions, People and Knowledge “(Grant Number A112269, DJA and HvW). The authors would also like to thank Felix John, Julius Rathgens, A.M. Tanvir Hussain, and Paul Upham for providing comments and critical feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript. In addition, JOE would like to thank Rolf Dobelli whose marvelous books on human cognition biases were a great inspiration for this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • John-Oliver Engler
    • 1
    Email author
  • David J. Abson
    • 2
  • Henrik von Wehrden
    • 1
  1. 1.Quantitative Methods of Sustainability Science Group, Faculty of SustainabilityLeuphana University of LüneburgLüneburgGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of Sustainability, Center for Sustainability ManagementLeuphana University of LüneburgLüneburgGermany

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