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The problem of detrimental environmental change is broad in scope and considerably beyond the ability of the human factors research community to solve. But human factors researchers can contribute greatly by working toward the goal of finding effective ways to modify, or mitigate the effects of, the human behavior that is a major cause of such change. It is useful to make a distinction between attempting to modify behavior directly and attempting to modify it indirectly by changing technology so that its use will be less detrimental to the environment.

Direct Behavioral Change

Possible ways to directly induce behavioral change include the use of coercion (legislation and regulation, backed up with the threat of civil or criminal sanctions), incentives (tax and other monetary incentives, public recognition, and awards), education (making people aware of problems and what can be done about them), and persuasion (appeals to moral responsibility or altruism—or the possibility of embarrassment or shame). All of these methods have been tried, many times in some cases, and in numerous variations.

Psychologists have done a considerable amount of research to assess the effectiveness of various strategies for behavior modification in the context of environmental concerns (Holahan, 1986; Russell and Ward, 1982;Page 161Suggested Citation:“5 Environmental Change.” National Research Council. 1995. Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4940.×SaveCancel

Saegert and Winkel, 1990; Stern, 1992). Illustrative of this work are studies of the use of incentives, rewards, education and information campaigns, persuasion, and other techniques to motivate conservation in the use of energy or water, participation in recycling programs, decrease in waste generation and littering, and other behavior that would be desirable for environmental preservation (Baum and Singer, 1981; Coach et al., 1979; Cone and Hayes, 1980; Geller et al., 1982; Geller, 1986). This work has demonstrated that behavior can be changed with the use of incentives and other types of inducements, but the changes that have been effected have been modest in magnitude and have tended not to persist much beyond the duration of the experimental intervention.

Without questioning the need to continue this line of research, we note that behavior modification is not the only approach that can be taken to the problem of detrimental environmental change. Moreover, even assuming that much more effective means of changing behavior in desired ways will be discovered than have so far been found, it may be unrealistic to expect the problem to be solved by this approach alone. Effective and lasting behavior modification has proven very difficult to achieve. Efforts to effect behavioral change are unlikely to be very successful so long as the technologies and the products of technology that we use make it easy to behave in environmentally harmful ways (Crabb, 1992).Changing Technology