Personality & Individual Differences, 1980, 1, 161-163.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN: Some Australian data
J. J. RAY
University of New South Wales, Australia
(Received September 1979)
Summary -- An attempt is made to find out what psychological traits (if any) are characteristic of the environmentalism supporter in the community at large. In an Australia-wide mail survey, 'environmentalists' were found to be consumer-conscious, anti-authoritarian, anti-Australia, less interested in personal 'success', anti-fashion, counter-culturally oriented and hedonistic. All except the first were however very weak tendencies. They were found to be equally likely to go either way on social conservatism, economic conservatism, sociability and misanthropy.
As a social movement that has emerged in strength only in recent times, environmentalism represents an opportunity for study as a phenomenon in its own right that is surely not to be missed. A large number of such studies have in fact now been carried out in the United States -- a detailed bibliography of which can be obtained from Prof. Riley Dunlap of the Dept. of Rural Sociology at Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, U.S.A.
The United States however is in many ways a very peculiar political entity -- with exceptional accommodation given to local involvement in political issues. It is not at all clear that results obtained there can be generalized to countries with the more centralized political structures characteristic of modern States. For this reason, the present author began some time ago a series of studies of environmentalism in Australia -- a country where local politics are particularly weak. Previous papers have dealt with the construction of a scale to measure degree of environmental concern and with the demographic correlates of that scale (Ray, 1974, 1975). The present paper therefore moves to the personality and attitudinal correlates of environmental concern.
A recent summary of public opinion poll data on environmentalism in Australia has been made by Hay (1977). Hay's summary revealed one of the usual weaknesses of poll data. Polls seem generally to find it much easier to obtain data on the 'external' (sociological?) characteristics of people than to obtain data on their 'internal' (psychological?) characteristics. Age, sex, occupation and income are readily observable but states of mind can be reliably assessed only with the aid of some measurement sophistication. The polls do of course offer some attitudinal data but this is generally of the single-question, issue-related type and as such cannot allow broad inferences about the person's general traits. The present study is an attempt to remedy that omission.
It consists of a survey carried out by a local market research organization which included the above-mentioned scale of environmentalist attitudes.
The survey included multi-item scales suitable for examining a number of hypotheses about environmental concern. These were: (1) Are people in the population at large who are favourable to environmental conservation (henceforth, 'environmentalists') also in general radical and if so are they radical both on general social issues and on economic issues? Lipset (1960) has made a strong case for treating conservatism on social and economic issues as fundamentally unrelated -- so previous findings (Ray, 1975) that environmentalists are politically radical (on foreign policy issues) cannot be taken as support for generalizations that they are radical in other respects. (2) Should environmentalism and consumer consciousness be distinguished? There is a sense in which consumerism serves immediate selfish ends whereas environmentalism is at least in part idealistic. It could be therefore that the only thing the two really have in common is their tendency to attack big business. (3) How does environmentalism relate to attitude to Australia as a whole? Given their concern with preserving our 'heritage', it seems reasonable that they might be very conscious of 'belonging' to the community and as such be proud to be Australians. On the other hand, patriotism seems a rather old-fashioned sentiment to many today if not in fact morally suspect. With their future-orientation and generally highly moral (if not moralistic) tone, this would seem to sit ill upon environmentalists. Only research could settle the matter one way or the other. (4) An attribute that has been of great concern to both social psychologists and sociologists over the years is authoritarianism. Given the fact that environmentalists generally seem to be in conflict with established sources of authority, one ought to be able to infer that authoritarians would be anti-environment. On the other hand, environmentalist activists are themselves notably insistent on the absolute claims of their own viewpoint so they too could perhaps be categorized as authoritarian in at least some ways. Whether this extends to their supporters in the community at large becomes then the question at issue. (5) The most misanthropic political slogan of our century is without doubt: 'People are pollution'. Yet those who utter it seem in other ways to be characterized by quite humanistic attitudes. Which side of this paradox reflects the truth? Are environmentalists in fact misanthropic? (6) As was observed above, environmentalism is to some extent idealistic. Concern for future generations is at least not directly selfish. Yet many other aspects of environmentalism are almost conspicuously selfish. That bushwalkers should want bushland preserved perhaps at the expense of the great majority of the community who do not go bushwalking may in fact need idealistic camouflage if its selfish benefits are not to be execrated. The question arises, then, of whether the idealism is in fact sincere. Are environmentalists seekers of personal advantage and success or are they relatively unmotivated in this way? (7) Finally, to what extent are environmentalists traditional rustic recluses? Are they shy, retiring, Thoreau-like people who seek communion with nature as a substitute for close involvement with people? They could in fact be quite the opposite. If a clean environment is the ultimate luxury for those who have everything else, they could be quite materialistic hedonists of a conventionally gregarious sort.
All the above are then fairly basic questions that need careful consideration. The results below will present a variety of evidence on each.
To measure the various attributes of interest the survey included scales of: Environmentalism, Social conservatism, Economic conservatism, Consumer consciousness, Australian patriotism, Authoritarianism, Misanthropy, Sensation-seeking, Experience-seeking, Sociability, Impulsiveness, and Success-orientation. Other scales in the battery were available to measure Task-orientation, Fashion consciousness, Approval motivation, Upward mobility, Frugality and Family cohesiveness.
The Environmentalism scale was the 12 item version of the Ray (1975) instrument. The Authoritarianism scale was a 14 item short form of the Ray (1972) 'Balanced 'F' scale'. The Social conservatism scale was as in Ray and Wilson (1976). The Australian patriotism scale was as in Ray (1974b chapter 46, appendix IV). The Misanthropy scale was as in Rosenberg (1956). The Sociability and Impulsiveness scales were composed of the high-loading items from Eysenck's (1963) factor analysis of his extroversion factor. The six-item Approval motivation scale (a check on social desirability set) was from Greenwald and Satow (1970). The Experience-seeking scale was as described in Wilson (1973). The Sensation-seeking scale was a short form of the Zuckerman (1971, Table 2) instrument. The remaining scales were derived from unpublished sources.
The sample was similar to Ray and Wilson (t976). Briefly, a mail questionnaire was sent to people who had already been interviewed door-to-door and 4600 were returned. Such a large N is required where groups represented only as very small minorities are to be partitioned out for separate study. As no partitions were planned for the present study, the data for analysis was selected randomly from the larger sample. The N chosen (200) enables a correlation explaining as little as 2% of the variance to be shown as statistically significant. Effects smaller than this were not thought important.
Although the sample was gathered by mail, its demographic structure closely followed that of the Australian population.
The mean score observed on the Environmentalism scale was also encouraging. At 41.89 (S.D. of 6.04) it was extremely close to the level already observed in the earlier door-to-door sample carried out by A.N.O.P.
All scales were examined for poorly discriminating items (assessed by item to total correlations) and weak items removed. This left scales with reliabilities (coefficient 'alpha') as follows: Social conservatism 0.84 (11 items); Economic conservatism 0.84 (15 items); Consumer consciousness 0.53 (5 items); Environmentalism 0.68 (10 items); Australian patriotism 0.73 (11 items); Authoritarianism 0.80 (14 items); Frugality 0.76 (8 items); Family cohesion 0.82 (12 items); Sensation-seeking 0.78 (12 items); Experience-seeking 0.73 (11 items); Upward mobility 0.72 (7 items); Fashion consciousness 0.72 (9 items); Sociability 0.84 (15 items); Impulsiveness 0.81 (12 items); Approval motivation or Lie scale 0.70 (6 items); Success orientation 0.76 (10 items); Task orientation 0.86 (15 items).
Because they were available, even scales not relevant to the hypotheses outlined earlier were of course examined for possible relationships with environmentalism.
The following relationships (or lack of them) were observed:
(1) Neither economic conservatism/radicalism nor social conservatism/radicalism were related to environmentalism. The (non-significant) correlations were -0.048 and -0.078 respectively.
(2) Environmentalism correlated 0.431 with consumer consciousness. As relationships in this sort of study go, this is quite a high relationship and indicates hence that consciousness of the need for consumer protection and consciousness of the need for environmental protection are closely associated.
(3) Environmentalists were in general slightly lower on Australian patriotism. The correlation of -0.158 indicates that they were slightly more critical of Australia than others were.
(4) Environmentalists tended not to be authoritarian. The correlation observed of -0.242 indicates that they tended to be more rejecting than others towards old-fashioned demands for obedience etc.
(5) Misanthropy was totally unrelated to Environmentalism. The correlation observed of 0.062 indicates that both very misanthropic and very philanthropic people could equally well be environmentalists.
(6) There was a slight tendency for people high on personal success-orientation to be low on environmentalism. Environmentalists were then slightly less concerned than others with their achievements in the eyes of the world. The correlation was -0.147.
(7) There were three scales for examining the last question posed above. Environmentalists were found to be neither introverted nor extraverted on the Sociability scale (r of -0.028) but were found to be inclined towards the materialistic/hedonistic on the Wilson Experience-seeking scale (r of 0.171). They were also sensation-seekers on the Zuckerman scale (r of 0.146). This latter scale was however weighted towards approval for various sorts of minor illegalities (such as Marijuana use) so may reflect a counter-cultural orientation as much as anything else.
(8) A final adventitious finding was that environmentalists were distinctly not fashion conscious. The correlation observed of -0.236 fits in with the other finding above that they were also not very conscious of personal success.
All correlations with scales not specifically mentioned in the last eight points above were not significant. A multiple R of 0.60 was obtained, using the 5 most predictive items.
The picture of the environmentalist that has emerged above does not fit any simple stereotype. The picture of a Volvo-driving trendy is confirmed by the materialistic/hedonistic orientation, the consumer consciousness, the counter-cultural orientation and the rejection of patriotism and conventional sources of authority. It is however counter-indicated by the lack of economic or social radicalism and the rejection of fashion and personal success-seeking.
The latter two attributes could perhaps be explained as characteristic self-deception or lack of self-knowledge on the part of Volvo-driving trendies but the lack of radicalism on economic and social issues is more problematical. If trendies do not espouse government involvement in the economy and do not espouse a better deal for homosexuals etc, can they in fact be called trendies? There is also the need to incorporate the earlier findings of Ray (1975) to the effect that on the one hand environmentalists are politically radical (on issues such as Vietnam) but on the other are not especially likely to be middle class.
Given the great popularity in the community of environmentalism as a cause (See Ray, 1975; Hay, 1977) and given the very similar mean incomes of manual vs non-manual workers in Australia, a possible way out of the difficulty might be to characterize the environmentalist as a 'neophyte trendy'. If he is working class in origin he might drive a different car to a Volvo but in either case he is so far only aware of really salient issues such as Vietnam and the environment. He is not yet up to indignation about income redistribution and persecuted minorities.
Not all environmentalists will of course fit the above picture -- environmentalistic activists perhaps least of all. It is in fact because such a wide variety of people support environmentalist causes that all the significant correlations found above were so low in absolute terms. No one thing is very characteristic of environmentalists as a whole.
Thus the above description of an 'ideal type' for the environmentalist could be a little misleading. What has been shown is that a variety of personal attributes predispose one to be pro-environment. In fact any one of these factors taken singly would so predispose one. The 'ideal type' described is hence the one most likely to be an environmentalist. If any one attribute alone predisposes one to a pro-environment stance, the person who has all of these attributes is obviously the one most likely of all to be pro-environment.
To put the matter another way, many pro-environment people will have only one of the attributes described above: They might be materialistic hedonists but not particularly unpatriotic, anti-authoritarian or uninterested in personal success. Even though the set of attributes explored in the present study was very large, it was not of course exhaustive and for this reason some environmentalists must in fact be expected to have none of the attributes described above. In these circumstances, the ideal type described above could well be in a small minority among the total body of environmentalists.
With all these qualifications we have however identified some of the characteristics of the 'typical environmentalist'.
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HAY C. (1977) The environment and the public: What the polls tell us. Aust. N.Z. J. Sociology 13, 242-248.
LIPSET S. M. (1960) Political Man. Doubleday, New York.
RAY, J.J. (1972) A new balanced F scale -- And its relation to social class. Australian Psychologist 7, 155-166.
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RAY, J.J. (1974b) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.
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RAY, J.J. & WILSON, R.S. (1976) Social conservatism in Australia. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Sociology 12(3), 255-257.
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