A Slap on the Wrist or a Pat on the Back: The Impact of Feedback on Pro-Eevironmentalism

by Maciek Lipinski-Harten

Institution: University of Toronto
Year: 2014
Keywords: Feedback; Environmentalism; Praise; Motivation
Record ID: 2024954
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/43643


A series of five studies examined how praise and reproach feedback influenced participants' pro-environmental inclinations. Though past research has shown that praise feedback is a more effective and longer-lasting source of motivation than reproach feedback, popular pro-environmental communications campaigns nevertheless largely attempt to increase pro-environmentalism by reproaching the inadequacy of pro-environmental awareness and action among members of the public. This investigation set out to determine which approach is best: a slap on the wrist or a pat on the back. First, studies evaluated the effects of praise and reproach feedback that was conveyed in the general fashion that is typically adopted in public pro-environmental campaigns. Participants who experienced such general, omnibus feedback did not show greater pro-environmental inclinations after receiving either praise or reproach. Instead, this form of feedback resulted in a lower willingness to identify with pro-environmental issues whenever participants were reproached for their pro-environmental performance. When feedback was formatted to be more behavior-specific, the impact of feedback on pro-environmental inclinations depended upon whether praise and reproach feedback was conveyed in gain-framed (i.e., focusing on savings) or loss-framed (i.e., focusing on waste) terms. When gain-framed terms were used, both participants who received praise and those who received reproach had greater pro-environmental behavioural intentions and support for environmental preservation efforts than those who received feedback framed in the loss-framed terms that are typically favored by popular communications. Overall, my findings indicate the need for pro-environmental advocates to adopt more behaviour-specific and gain-framed forms of feedback in order to have a meaningful positive impact upon individuals' pro-environmental inclinations.