Everyday Enviro with Elise - Personality at play - Planet Ark Environmental Foundation

Everyday Enviro with Elise - Personality at play

    By Elise Catterall  July 29th, 2020

    This week, Elise discusses the psychology of people who are environmentally minded and looks at the traits consistent amongst us

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    I spend a lot of time writing (and thinking, generally) about ways we, the average person, can lower our environmental impact. One of the reasons I love writing about this is because it feels like having a conversation (albeit a little one sided) with likeminded friends. It was that feeling, that by writing these pieces I’m communicating with likeminded friends, that got me thinking about what makes us actually likeminded.

    Unsurprisingly there has been a lot of research about the psychology of people who are environmentally minded and certain traits come through again and again that seem to predict environmentally conscious behaviours. 

    The main personality trait that shines through in the research is openness – the tendency to be open to new experiences and ideas. This can come into play in a few ways – it means those who are open are willing to change and adapt as situations dictate, even if there is some self-sacrifice needed; that they are willing to embrace new experiences – say riding a bike to work rather than driving; and that they are open to receiving, and responding to, new ideas or information (say, new research findings), that comes in. I think it makes perfect sense that this trait is associated with environmentally friendly behaviours.

    The second personality trait that is associated with environmentally friendly behaviour is conscientiousness, specifically aspects like diligence and organisation. That last one resonates less with me personally as I am pretty disorganised, but I can see how it fits the picture. For me, conscientiousness manifests in being ecofriendly via a sense of responsibility to do the right thing by the earth and our fellow earthlings, and through diligence in committing to the behaviours we adopt.

    Other traits that were common were honesty-humility, agreeableness and extraversion/proactivity. Like openness and conscientiousness, these attributes make sense: honesty-humility describes a cooperative nature as well as a sense of connectedness to, and concern for, others; agreeableness can lend itself to being more community minded, nature loving, and wanting the best for others; and extraversion/proactivity can mean a desire or tendency to speak up, speak out, and make change - all important things.

    Two of the traits - openness and honesty-humility - have been found specifically to be linked to a connectedness with nature and humanity generally, while the honesty-humility trait, considered to be a prosocial personality trait, is suggested to be the driving trait behind altruism. Altruisim, in turn, is suggested to be a fundamental motivator behind environmentally friendly behaviours, and is one of the more admirable traits humans possess, in my opinion.

    The level to which these traits will dictate pro-environmental behaviour will be influenced by level of knowledge, beliefs and life experiences, but it’s fascinating to examine the links and the traits at a granular level. It may also help us understand the behaviours of those who aren’t environmentally friendly and provide ideas and approaches to counter them.

    See you next time! - Elise

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    Elise Catterall

    Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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