Monday, September 9, 2013

Framing environmental sustainability as a matter of rights or the common good

I just had a chance to read a fascinating paper by MarYam G. Hamedani, Hazel Rose Markus and Alyssa S. Fu, which I heard about on NPR many months ago, regarding the how framing issues to an audience as a matter of independence (rights-based) as opposed to interdependence (community-based) can have a tremendous impact. 

Those who teach land use, environmental law, and sustainability courses would do well to read about one of their studies, in particular, which involved framing an environmental sustainability course.  The study evaluated those of both European American background and Asian American background.  As the study notes, European Americans “have been exposed primarily to mainstream cultural contexts that promote and value independence,” while Asian Americans “have been exposed both to these contexts and also to cultural contexts that promote and value interdependence.” 

Broadly stated, the study found that for a proposed environmental sustainability course, “European Americans demonstrated less motivation, . . . allocated fewer resources, . . . when the course was framed with interdependent behavior than with independent behavior.  They were also less likely to agree that the course should be a university requirement when the course was framed with interdependent behavior than with independent behavior. . . . Asian Americans did not differ in their responses according to condition.”

The study concluded, in part, as follows and drawing on a larger number of studies than the one noted above:

In the land of the free, can appeals to increased interdependent awareness and action undermine motivation for independent Americans? The present studies reveal that they can. Specifically, we found that priming interdependent rather than independent action undermines general motivation for both mental and physical tasks and that framing participation in a university class about environmental sustainability in terms of interdependent action (working together) rather than independent action (taking charge) leads to decreased motivation and resource allocation. These effects were robust and suggest that the frequent and pressing calls for Americans to recognize their shared fate and think collectively may result in the unintended consequences of undermining the very motivation they seek to inspire. It is important to note that interdependent action is not inherently demotivating for all Americans. Rather, it is demotivating for European Americans for whom, unlike for bicultural Asian Americans, interdependent action has not yet been systematically and pervasively associated with valued, normative, “good” behavior in their sociocultural context.

The article is In the Land of the Free, Interdependent Action Undermines Motivation  and is in the January 9, 2013 edition of Psychological Science (sub. req’d) .  A fascinating study that is well worth a read!

Stephen R. Miller

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/land_use/2013/09/framing-environmental-sustainability-as-a-matter-of-rights-or-the-common-good.html

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