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A chat may help convert a peer to a pro-sustainability stance

Feb. 7, 2023
People having a discussion

This news article was originally published by Ohio State News and written by Emily Caldwell.

A chat may help convert a peer to a pro-sustainability stance

Study examines conversation as a vehicle for social influence

Changing the mind of someone who is dismissive of efforts to protect the planet could be accomplished by sharing a pro-sustainability point of view during a conversation, new research suggests.

In three experiments, researchers found that exposure to a pro-sustainability opinion in a conversation or written exchange helped coax people who held anti-sustainability views toward support for an environmentally friendly initiative. 

Results also showed that people with a pro-sustainability viewpoint were not persuaded to change their commitment by talking to someone with an opposing point of view. 

The researchers noted that many sustainable behaviors – lowering the thermostat, recycling or buying fewer disposable products – are household or community endeavors that follow discussion and consideration. And so it follows, they say, that persuading others to adopt sustainable practices could be achieved through a common social activity: talking about it. 

“There has been research showing that when it comes to divisive issues, people can get entrenched in their views, but we find that this is not always the case, at least in the context of sustainability,” said senior author Nicole Sintov, associate professor of behavior, decision making and sustainability at The Ohio State University. “If I am anti-sustainability and I’m talking to another anti-sustainability person, then I’m not going to take more action to protect the environment. But if I talk to somebody who is pro-sustainability, I’m going to move to match what their values are, essentially. 

“I think that is a particularly juicy finding, especially in today’s political climate.” 

Sintov completed the study with first author Kristin Hurst, a former Ohio State postdoctoral researcher now at Southern Illinois University, and Grant Donnelly, assistant professor of marketing at Ohio State. The research was published online recently in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

Read the full Ohio State News article.