Emotions and pro-environmental behavior

César Tapia-Fonllem*, Victor Corral-Verdugo, Claudia Gutiérrez-Sida, José Mireles-Acosta, Hugo Tirado-Medina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Emotions are a fundamental component of human psychological functioning, yet the study of their contribution in explaining a number of behavioral facets (sustainable behavior included) has been traditionally neglected. Evolutionary and environmental psychologists stress the role played by emotions as factors facilitating human adaptive behaviors. Affective responses resulting from evolved emotions afford and incite approaches to nutritional objects, wellbeing and sex, and avoidance from danger and physical harm. These feelings promote pleasure, displeasure, activation, and related states making the survival of individuals possible. The question is whether or not emotions conduce to sustainable behaviors, which are conceived as adaptive actions allowing the long-term survival of our species. According to the pertinent literature there is a positive response to such a question: sustainable behaviors are clearly influenced by affective-emotional factors; nonetheless the emphasis of most explanatory models is only on the rational determinants of such behaviors. Previous research shows that affinity towards nature, happiness, satisfaction, empathy, interest in nature, biophilia, and affinity towards bio and socio-diversity are positive emotional states promoting sustainable actions. Although some negative emotions, such as personal distress and fear, sometimes inhibit sustainable behaviors, others, as guilt, shame and indignation due to insufficient environmental protection seem to promote pro-ecological activities. Emotions also influence intentions to act in sustainable ways. Since these intentions induce pro-environmental behavior, the effect of emotions on sustainable actions is both direct and indirect. A study was conducted to illustrate the way emotions influence pro-environmental behaviors. Four-hundred and fifty-five individuals living in three Mexican cities responded to an instrument assessing pro-environmental intentions, pro-ecological behavior, emotional interest in nature, feelings of indignation due to environmental deterioration, and affinity towards biodiversity. The three latter factors constituted a second-order latent variable, which we labeled "environmental emotions." A structural equation model revealed that pro-environmental intentions affect pro-ecological behavior, as expected, yet the influence of emotions on pro-ecological behavior was higher than the one promoted by intentions. The combined effect of emotions and intentions explained slightly more than half of pro-environmental behavior variance. The second-order emotional factor significantly influenced pro-environmental intentions in addition to its affecting pro-ecological behavior. Thus, the effects of these emotions on conservationist actions were both direct and indirect, as expected. Implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPsychological Approaches to Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationCurrent Trends in Theory, Research and Applications
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9781608763566
StatePublished - 2010


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