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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Jan;1185:211-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05163.x.

Pro-environmental behavior: rational choice meets moral motivation.

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Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755, USA.


The determinants of individual behaviors that provide shared environmental benefits are a longstanding theme in social science research. Alternative behavioral models yield markedly different predictions and policy recommendations. This paper reviews and compares the literatures from two disciplines that appear to be moving toward a degree of convergence. In social psychology, moral theories of pro-environmental behavior have focused on the influence of personal moral norms while recognizing that external factors, such as costs and incentives, ultimately limit the strength of the norm-behavior relationship. Rational choice models, such as the theory of planned behavior in social psychology and the theories of voluntary provision of public goods in economics, have sought to incorporate the effects of personal norms and to measure their importance in explaining behaviors, such as recycling and the demand for green products. This paper explores the relationship between these approaches and their implications for the theory and practice of ecological economics.

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