The interdependent nature of environmental behaviors: Testing a conceptual framework for behavioral spillover

Open Access
Zawadzki, Stephanie Johnson
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
May 01, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Melvin Michael Mark, Thesis Advisor
  • Janet Swim, Thesis Advisor
  • pro-environmental behavior
  • experiment
  • mediation
  • behavior
  • behavioral spillover
In order to effectively address pressing environmental problems, individuals will need to adopt multiple, often difficult or unpleasant, pro-environmental behaviors. Behavioral spillover, which occurs when engaging in one behavior influences the likelihood of engaging in a second behavior, may be key to understanding effective and long-term individual pro-environmental engagement (Thøgersen & Crompton, 2009). A model based in consistency theory is proposed and tested. The model incorporates the psychological process of behavioral interdependence and provides a framework for experimental inquiry on behavioral spillover. Participants included 179 undergraduates. In an experimental test of the model, half of the participants initially recycled while the other half engaged in a control behavior. In order to examine possible testing effects, orthogonally half were asked to complete a questionnaire that measured the hypothesized mediators and half completed a control questionnaire. All participants were then given the opportunity to engage in two more pro-environmental behaviors. Some experimental evidence of behavioral spillover across multiple pro-environmental behaviors was observed, though the spillover effects were found almost exclusively among participants who completed a questionnaire with the mediators. Further, results suggest some support for the hypothesis that engaging in one pro-environmental behavior changes a person’s perceptions of that behavior as well as perceptions of a subsequent pro-environmental behavior. However, these changes in perceptions did not predict engagement in that second behavior, nor did they mediate the relation between the two behaviors. Implications for future research are discussed, with an emphasis on methodology to be used in experimental tests of environmental behavioral spillover.