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Four broad categories of psychological theories explain motivations for engagement or avoidance of climate action: (i) rational choice theories postulate that human behaviour is mostly driven by self-interest and reasoned choices (weighing costs and benefits); (ii) theories of altruism propose that people engage in climate action because of their personal values, and they are sometimes willing to give up personal benefits for the sake of the environment; (iii) theories of multiple motivations suggest that climate action may sometimes be driven by self-interest, and sometimes by altruism; and that (iv) people would engage in more climate action if they were not impeded by psychological or structural barriers. Psychological barriers are somewhat related to rational choice and a lack of altruism, and can prevent action through a variety of pathways, including lack of knowledge, cognitive biases, perceived risks, and social pressure, among others.
This psychological research spanning four decades provides strong empirical support for a number of strategies that encourage behaviour change. Providing tailored information, soliciting commitment (i.e., pledges), recruiting leaders from within social networks, giving feedback and using a variety of other social influence strategies can effectively increase climate-friendly behaviour.