Researchers have looked at the environmental commitment of some study participants. And they found that most of them thought they were doing better than the rest of the population. A reflection that is not without consequences for their actions, according to experts.
It is clear now that young European people are concerned about the climate crisis. Their concerns are highlighted in particular by a study published by the French agency for the environment and energy in December: '60% of French 15-24 year-olds think that climate change will not be limited to acceptable levels by the end of the century,' wrote the authors.
However, their behaviour 'is not very different from that of older generations,' they noted. New research from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) could explain this paradox: we tend to overestimate our personal environmental commitment. And this is true at any age.
Better than others
To reach these conclusions, the researchers recruited more than 4,000 people from Sweden, the United States, England and India. Participants reported on how often they engaged in environmentally friendly activities: recycling, energy conservation, use of sustainable transport, reduction or elimination of plastics, participation in eco-consumption, water conservation, litter reduction, reuse and upcycling (or over cycling), etc. They were also asked to estimate how they stood in relation to others.
The results, published in the Basic and Applied Social Psychology journal last November, show that most of them were convinced that they were, on average, doing more than their peers. This was also in comparison to both strangers and friends. Volunteers were also more likely to overestimate their commitment to regular actions. Many seemed to draw the erroneous conclusion that they did them often, but that they also did them more often than others.
Thinking more but doing less
Previous research had already pointed to our tendency to overestimate our own abilities. As with driving and creativity, 'this study shows that [...] the "better than average" effect also applies to environmentally friendly behaviour,' explained Magnus Bergquist, an environmental psychology researcher, in a press release.
The problem is that thinking we are better than othersreduces our motivation to act. In fact, the study's findings show that when we think we are more respectful than those around us, we actually tend to become less so.
According to the scientist, to reduce this risk of 'over-optimism', we should have a more realistic view of our own efforts. 'If you think about it logically, the majority cannot be more environmentally friendly than others. One way to change this erroneous view is to inform people that others really do behave respectfully towards the environment, thus creating a social norm,' he concluded.