Spillover Research

I believe that people can live in ways that protect the environment rather than destroy it. My PhD research focused on how to encourage pro-environmental behaviours by harnessing the power of behavioural spillover.

Behavioural spillover is the idea that performing an environmental behaviour influences whether you would perform another environmental behaviour.

An example of spillover would be someone who turns off taps when brushing their teeth may also buy water-saving appliances. Another example could be someone who recycles their plastic waste and supports government policies to reduce plastic pollution. The notion of spillover as a ‘virtuous escalator‘ seems whimsical, yet intuitive. It make sense that someone who has already done something for the environment would want to do something else. But spillover just isn’t happening…People recycle, but still there is pollution.

Why isn’t spillover happening? And how can spillover be encouraged?

The idea I tested: The things we do tell us something about who we are as individuals (e.g., self-perceptions), and this influences what we choose to do. Since self-perceptions are tied to our past actions, reminding individuals of the times they have acted environmentally would cue the self-perceptions associated with being “pro-environmental”, and this would lead them to choosing another environmental behaviour in the future.

Spillover research papers

You did, so you can, and you will – how self-efficacy guides adoption of difficult behaviour.

My first publication demonstrated 2 studies that found individuals who performed easy water-saving behaviours was linked to their self-efficacy (e.g., how capable and confident they were to save water), and their self-efficacy was linked to their intentions to do more difficult behaviours in the future, like installing a water-efficient appliance at home. These findings shed light on a potential mechanism of spillover.Testing this notion in a real-world setting is needed to understand whether self-efficacy can be harnessed to motivate spillover.

What these findings do suggest is that the things we do, even if they are easy and simple, help us to gain the confidence to take on more difficult behaviours in the future.

Lauren, N., Fielding, K., Smith, L., & Louis, W. (2016). You did, so you can and you will: Self-efficacy as a mediator of spillover from easy to more difficult pro-environmental behaviour. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 48, 191-199.

Promoting spillover: How past behaviours increase environmental intentions by cueing self-perceptions

My second publication presented an experiment that tested the idea that reminders of past behaviour can cue self-perceptions, which motivate adoption of other environmental behaviours. I showed that reminding people of many things they have done (versus only a few behaviours) heightened their sense of environmental self-identity (i.e., “I am the type of person who cares for the environment”), and in turn this motivated them to do things for the environment in private (e.g., save water at home) as well as in public (e.g., volunteer or donate). Testing in a real-world setting is necessary to know whether this manipulation is effective at encouraging real-world behaviour.

What these findings do show is that the things we do are associated with how we see ourselves, which has to the potential to influence what we choose to do in the future.

Lauren, N., Smith, L., Louis, W., & Dean, A. (2019). Promoting spillover: How past behaviors increase environmental intentions by cueing self-perceptions. Environment & Behavior, 51, 235-258.

I believe that most people want to do good for the environment. My research supports this thinking, but it helps for people to be reminded of what they have done.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss my research