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Working paper

The activation of environmental norms: an illustrated model

URP Working Paper No. 56
Conservation Social change Consumer behaviour Public value Behavioural economics Australia Coorong

A theoretical model with which to consider the activation of personal norms associated with contributions to public goods is presented. The model is based on a well known psychological model of helping behaviour, Schwartz ’s norm-activation model. In its most basic form, this model holds that the activation of norms of helping is most likely when an actor is aware of the positive consequences her helping behaviour would have for an object in need, and ascribes responsibility to herself for helping.

The paper considers how the Schwartz model can be extended to encompass situations where individuals have the opportunity to cooperate with others, and contribute to the provision of public goods. Particular attention is given to environmental goods. A review of literature in political economy and psychology suggests that the translation of Schwartz’s model from situations of isolated individual helping to the public goods context requires the role of organisations, policy initiatives and notions of justice to be explicitly incorporated within the model. Existing elements of Schwartz’s model also need to be broadened to encompass some of the unique characteristics of public good contributions, such as shared responsibility, and lower levels of individual decisiveness. The key beliefs driving the model are illustrated in the context of individual reactions to a questionnaire in which they are asked if they are prepared to make a $50 contribution to help preserve the Australian Coorong in its current state. Qualitative data was obtainedfrom 9 focus groups.

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