Environment Systems and Decisions

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 472–482 | Cite as

The promise of asymmetric interventions for addressing risks to environmental systems

  • Victoria Campbell-Arvai
  • Joseph Arvai


Recent studies suggest that people the world over are becoming increasingly concerned about the health of environmental systems. However, research has also shown that many people still fail to make decisions that will result in even small behavioral changes that, when aggregated across society, might lead to positive environmental consequences. This paper reports the results of three naturalistic experiments—each involving asymmetric interventions and set in the context of real-world decisions—aimed at helping people to make decisions at the individual level that, when scaled up, can help to address risks to environmental systems.


Asymmetric intervention Decision-making Environmental risk 



This research was supported by The National Science Foundation under award number SES-0924210. Additional support was provided by the Office of the Vice President for Finance and Operations, and the Office of Campus Sustainability at Michigan State University. We acknowledge the support of John Reed of the Westin Detroit, as well as Vennie Gore, Bruce Haskell, Guy Procopio, Laurie Thorpe, and Diane Barker at Michigan State University. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our sponsors or collaborators.


  1. Abdalla CW, Lawton JL (2006) Environmental issues in animal agriculture. Choices 21:177–181Google Scholar
  2. Abrahamse W, Steg L, Vlek C, Rothengatter JA (2005) A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy consumption. J Environ Psychol 25:273–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ariely D, Loewenstein G (2006) The heat of the moment: the effect of sexual arousal on sexual decision making. J Behav Decis Mak 19:87–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arvai J, Campbell-Arvai V (2013) Risk communication: insights from the decision sciences. In: Arvai J, Rivers L (eds) Effective risk communication: learning from the past, charting a course for the future. Taylor & Francis, London, UK, pp 234–257Google Scholar
  5. Arvai JL, Gregory R (2003) Testing alternative decision approaches for identifying cleanup priorities at contaminated sites. Environ Sci Technol 37:1469–1476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Arvai J, Post K (2012) Risk management in a developing country context: improving decisions about point-of-use water treatment among the rural poor in Tanzania. Risk Anal 32:67–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Arvai J, Kellon D, Leon R, Gregory R, Richardson R (2014) Structuring international development decisions: confronting trade-offs between land use and community development in Costa Rica. Environ Syst Decis 34:224–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Asch SE (1956) Studies of independence and conformity: a minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychol Monogr 70:9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bazerman MH, Tenbrunsel AE, Wade-Benzoni KA (1998) Negotiating with yourself and losing: making decisions with competing internal preferences. Acad Manag Rev 23:225–241Google Scholar
  10. Benartzi S, Peleg E, Thaler RH (2007) Choice architecture and retirement saving plans. SSRN eLibraryGoogle Scholar
  11. Bessette D, Arvai J, Campbell-Arvai V (2014) Decision support framework for developing regional energy strategies. Environ Sci Technol 48:1401–1408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bögeholz S (2006) Nature experience and its importance for environmental knowledge, values and action: recent German empirical contributions. Environ Educ Res 12:65–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bond S, Carlson K, Keeney RL (2008) Generating objectives: can decision makers articulate what they want? Manage Sci 54:56–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brown CL, Krishna A (2004) The skeptical shopper: a metacognitive account for the effects of default options on choice. J Consum Res 31:529–539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Campbell-Arvai V, Arvai J, Kalof L (2014) Motivating sustainable food choices: the role of nudges, value orientation, and information provision. Environ Behav 46:453–475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cialdini RB, Goldstein NJ (2004) Social influence: compliance and conformity. Annu Rev Psychol 55:591–621CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Clark CF, Kotchen MJ, Moore MR (2003) Internal and external influences on pro-environmental behavior: participation in a green electricity program. J Environ Psychol 23:237–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Clemen RT (2004) Making hard decisions: an introduction to decision analysis. PWS-Kent Publishing Co., Boston, MAGoogle Scholar
  19. de Leeuw A, Valois P, Ajzen I, Scmidt P (2015) Using the theory of planned behavior to identify key beliefs underlying pro-environmental behavior in high-school students: implications for educational interventions. J Environ Psychol 42:128–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Deckers J (2010) Should the consumption of farmed animal products be restricted, and if so, by how much? Food Policy 35:497–503CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Derksen L, Gartrell J (1993) The social context of recycling. Am Sociol Assoc 58:434–442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dietz T, Gardner GT, Gilligan J, Stern PC, Vandenbergh MP (2009) Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions. Proc Natl Acad Sci 106:18452–18456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Downs JS, Loewenstein G, Wisdom J (2009) Strategies for promoting healthier food choices. Am Econ Rev 99:159–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Epstein S (1994) Integration of the cognitive and the psychodynamic unconscious. Am Psychol 49:709–724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Felsen G, Castelo N, Reiner P (2013) Decisional enhancement and autonomy: public attitudes towards overt and covert nudges. Judgm Decis Mak 8:202–213Google Scholar
  26. Fischhoff B (2012) Risk analysis and human behavior. Routledge, London, UKGoogle Scholar
  27. Fisher RJ (1993) Social desireability and the validity of indirect questioning. J Consum Res 20:303–315 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gardner GT, Stern PC (1995) Environmental problems and human behavior. Allyn and Bacon, BostonGoogle Scholar
  29. Gerbens-Leenes PW, Nonhebel S (2002) Consumption patterns and their effects on land required for food. Ecol Econ 42:185–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gigerenzer G, Hertwig R, Pachur T (2011) Heuristics. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gilovich T, Griffin D, Kahneman D (2002a) Heuristics and biases: the psychology of intuitive judgment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gilovich T, Griffin D, Kahneman D (2002b) Intuitive Judgement: heuristics and biases. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Goldstein NJ, Cialdini RB, Griskevicius V (2008) A room with a viewpoint: using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. J Consum Res 35:472–482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Guagnano GA, Stern PC, Dietz T (1995) Influences on attitude-behavior relationships: a natural experiment with curbside recycling. Environ Behav 27:699–718CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hamilton LC, Saito K (2014) A four-party view of US environmental concern. Environ Politics 24:212–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hershfield HE, Bang HM, Weber EU (2014) National differences in environmental concern and performance are predicted by country age. Psychol Sci 25:152–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Johnson EJ, Goldstein D (2003) Do defaults save lives? Science 302:1338–1339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kahneman D, Tversky A (1979) Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica 47:263–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kahneman D, Tversky A (2000) Choices, values, and frames. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar
  40. Kahneman D, Slovic P, Tversky A (1982) Judgment under uncertainty: heuristics and biases. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Keeney RL (1992) Value-focused thinking. A path to creative decision making. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  42. Kenney L, Arvai J, Vardhan M, Catacutan D (2015) Bringing stakeholder values into climate risk management programs: decision aiding for REDD in Vietnam. Soc Nat Resour 28:261–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kesan JP, Shah RC (2006) Setting software defaults: perspectives from law, computer science and behavioral economics. Notre Dame Law Review 82:583–634Google Scholar
  44. Kiker GA, Bridges TS, Varghese A, Seager TP, Linkov I (2005) Application of multicriteria decision analysis in environmental decision making. Integr Environ Assess Manage 1:95–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kollmuss A, Agyeman J (2002) Mind the gap; Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior? Environ Educ Res 8:239–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lerner J, Keltner D (2001) Fear, anger, and risk. J Pers Soc Psychol 81:146–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lindenberg S, Steg L (2007) Normative, gain and hedonic goal frames guiding environmental behavior. J Soc Issues 63:117–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Loewenstein G (1996) Out of control: visceral influences on behavior. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 65:272–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McKenzie CRM, Liersch MJ, Finkelstien SR (2006) Recommendations implicit in policy defaults. Psychol Sci 17:414–420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Milkman KL, Rogers T, Bazerman MH (2008) Harnessing our inner angels and demons: what we have learned about want/should conflicts and how that knowledge can help us reduce short-sighted decision making. Perspect Psychol Sci 3:324–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Monroe M (2011) Engaging the public in environmental decisions: strategies for environmental education and communication. In: Gökçekus H, Türker U, LaMoreaux JW (eds) Survival and sustainability. Springer, Berlin, pp 741–749Google Scholar
  52. Payne JW, Bettman JR, Johnson EJ (1992) Behavioral decision research: a constructive processing perspective. Annu Rev Psychol 43:87–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pichert D, Katsikopoulos KV (2008) Green defaults: information presentation and pro-environmental behaviour. J Environ Psychol 28:63–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Quattrone GA, Tversky A (1988) Contrasting rational and psychological analyses of political choice. Am Polit Sci Rev 82:719–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Ratner RK, Soman D, Zauberman G, Ariely D, Carmon Z, Keller PA, Kim BK, Lin F, Malkoc S, Small DA, Wertenbroch K (2008) How behavioral decision research can enhance consumer welfare: from freedom of choice to paternalistic intervention. Mark Lett 19:383–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Samuelson W, Zeckhauser R (1988) Status quo bias in decision making. J Risk Uncertain 1:7–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Scheibehenne B, Miesler L, Todd PM (2007) Fast and frugal food choices: uncovering individual decision heuristics. Appetite 49:578–589CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Shefrin H, Statman M (1985) The disposition to sell winners too early and ride losers too long: theory and evidence. J Financ 40:777–790CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Shiv B, Fedorikhin A (1999) Heart and mind in conflict: the interplay of affect and cognition in consumer decision-making. J Consum Res 26:278–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Simon HA (1955) A behavioral model of rational choice. Quart J Econ 69:99–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Slovic P, Finucane ML, Peters E, MacGregor DG (2002) The affect heuristic. In: Gilovich T, Griffin D, Kahneman D (eds) Intuitive judgment: heuristics and biases. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp 397–420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Smil V (2002) Worldwide transformation of diets, burdens of meat production and opportunities for novel food proteins. Enzym Microb Technol 30:305–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Smith NC, Goldstein DG, Johnson EJ (2013) Choice without awareness: ethical and policy implications of defaults. J Public Policy Mark 32:159–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Spotswood F, French J, Tapp A, Stead M (2012) Some reasonable but uncomfortable questions about social marketing. J Soc Market 2:163–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stern PC (1999) Information, incentives and proenvironmental consumer behavior. J Consum Policy 22:461–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Stern PC, Dietz T, Kalof L (1993) Value orientations, gender and environmental concern. Environ Behav 25:322–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Tetlock PE (2000) Coping with trade-offs: psychological constraints and political implications. In: Lupia A, Popkin SL, McCubbins MD (eds) Elements of reason: cognition, choice, and the bounds of rationality. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar
  68. Thaler RH, Sunstein CR (2003) Libertarian paternalism. Am Econ Rev 93:175–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Thaler RH, Sunstein CR (2008) Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Yale University Press, New Haven, CTGoogle Scholar
  70. Verplanken B, Wood W (2006) Interventions to break and create consumer habits. J Public Policy Market 25:90–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Von Bergen CW, Miles MP (2015) Social negative option marketing: a partial response to one of Spotswood, French, Tapp and Stead’s (2012) “uncomfortable questions”. J Soc Market 5:125–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. White T (2000) Diet and the distribution of environmental impact. Ecol Econ 34:145–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wilson RS, Arvai JL (2006) When less is more: how affect influences preferences when comparing low and high-risk options. J Risk Res 9:165–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wilson RS, Arvai JL (2010) Why less is more: exploring affect-based value neglect. J Risk Res 13:399–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Zajonc RB (1980) Feeling and thinking: preferences need no inferences. Am Psychol 35:151–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Erb Institute for Global Sustainable EnterpriseUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Ross School of BusinessUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Decision ResearchEugeneUSA

Personalised recommendations