February 25, 2012
Susan Clayton, professor of psychology and environmental studies at The College of Wooster, blogs about sustainability issues for Psychology Today.
WOOSTER, Ohio — As a social psychologist, Susan Clayton argues that “facts alone are not enough to convince everyone… nor are attitudes enough to determine behavior.” But she does believe that psychological research can be used to encourage certain types of behavior, particularly in regard to the environment.
“Merely informing people about environmental problems is hardly ever effective in changing behavior,” says Clayton, professor of psychology and environmental studies at The College of Wooster, “but taking into account the role of emotions, identification, and social norms can be more effective.”
Clayton works with environmental educators and conservation professionals in applied settings to increase the public’s awareness of, and interest in, ways to protect the environment. She will begin sharing her observations with a national audience later this month as a blogger for Psychology Today, a bi-monthly magazine that explores a range of psychological topics, largely tailored to a lay audience.
As one of the expert contributors, Clayton will weigh in on sustainability issues and the burgeoning field of conservation psychology. “The natural world has psychological implications that are often overlooked,” says Clayton, author of Conservation Psychology: Understanding and Promoting Human Care for Nature. “Psychologists need to address sustainability, and psychological research should inform environmental policy.”
Clayton studies environmental issues in the context of human attitudes, values, and behavior. “If we want to address environmental challenges, we must consider human behavior,” she says. “How people think about and react to nature is important, and there are things that can be done to promote a better relationship with the natural. Sometimes we focus too much on changing attitudes when we should be looking at other things that affect behavior.”
Clayton hopes her blog will enlighten people about the role of psychology in sustainability. “Protecting the environment must be a collaborative effort, and communication among people with different specializations is an important first step,” she says. “People must act to minimize or alleviate the environmental threats we are facing. Psychology may not provide all the answers, but it certainly needs to be part of the conversation.”
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