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Ripple effects: Can information about the collective impact of individual actions boost perceived efficacy about climate change?
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology  (IF3.603),  Pub Date : 2021-08-16, DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2021.104217
Matthew J. Hornsey, Cassandra M. Chapman, Dexter M. Oelrichs

There is broad theoretical consensus that one way to promote climate-friendly behavior is to increase people's belief that their actions can make a difference (individual response efficacy). However, attempts to increase individual efficacy beliefs about climate change through explicit instruction have generally failed. In the current paper, two experiments tested an intervention designed to convince people that their individual actions spread and multiply, causing larger changes in interconnected systems (also known as ripple or butterfly effects). Participants were presented with four principles which explain how individual actions can have aggregate effects at the collective level: social norms, consumer pressure, political pressure, and snowball effects. Although Study 1 (N = 491) revealed promising effects of the intervention in terms of individual efficacy and pro-environmental intentions, the intervention did not influence actual behavior (i.e., donations to an environmental campaign). Further, when changes were made to the design to reduce social desirability processes, the interventions had no significant effects (Study 2; N = 801). We draw on these data – as well as previous failed attempts to promote individual efficacy – to extract theoretical implications for our understanding of how people internalize individual control over broad collective threats such as climate change.