Examining the Impact of Holistic Environmental Knowledge on Behavior

Grace Whipkey


The Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA); the idea that when you change someone’s knowledge, this influences their attitude which, in turn, alters their behavior; is often applied to environmental behavior. However, researchers often don't find as large of a correlation between knowledge and behavior as they hope. After conducting a literature review, it became apparent that this may be a result of researchers not measuring environmental knowledge holistically. Specifically, social knowledge; knowledge derived from the observation of others’ or common knowledge; is often overlooked.  I argue that this is detrimental to researchers' findings because social knowledge can help explain political, generational, and gender differences in environmental behavior as well as why people become more concerned about climate change following unusual weather events and why people behave more pro-environmentally during or following different social situations.  I propose that it is necessary to conduct a study that analyzes the effects of all types of environmental knowledge alongside social knowledge.

Proposed Experiment

In order to address the gap in the research that I identified, I have proposed an experiment that will expose both the relationship between each type of environmental knowledge and behavior and the effectiveness of attempts to increase each type of knowledge in promoting pro-environmental behavior. The experiment I propose involves randomly placing participants into either the control group or one of four treatment groups corresponding to each type of knowledge. Once assigned, participants will be given a survey that will assess their environmental knowledge and behavior. For the following four weeks, they will watch a video and take a quiz each week that will attempt to increase the knowledge corresponding to their group. The control group will be given an unrelated video and quiz. A sample video and quiz for the social knowledge group is shown below. The week after participants complete their final video and quiz, they will be given the same survey they took at the beginning of the experiment to assess changes.

  1. If we continue to destroy the environment, what will happen in the future in terms of pandemics?​

  2. What percentage of the world’s infectious diseases originate in wildlife?

  3. Why are higher levels of air pollution a problem for coronavirus patients?​

  4. Why is air travel a problem in terms of containing outbreaks?​


1. Taufique Khan Md Raziuddin et al., "Integrating General Environmental Knowledge and Eco-Label Knowledge in Understanding Ecologically Conscious Consumer Behavior," Procedia Economics and Finance 37 (2016): 40, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2212-5671(16)30090-9.

2. Florian G. Kaiser and Urs Fuhrer, "Ecological Behavior's Dependency on Different Forms of Knowledge," Applied Psychology 52, no. 4 (2003): 598-599, https://doi.org/10.1111/1464-0597.00153.

3. Carry Funk and Brian Kennedy. "How Americans See Climate Change and the Environment in 7 Charts." The Pew Research Center. 2020. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/21/how-americans-see-climate-change-and-the-environment-in-7-charts/.; Carry Funk and Alec Tyson. "Millennial and Gen Z Republicans Stand out from Their Elders on Climate and Energy Issues." The Pew Research Center. 2020. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/24/millennial-and-gen-z-republicans-stand-out-from-their-elders-on-climate-and-energy-issues/.

Elle Hunt. "The Eco Gender Gap: Why Is Saving the Planet Seen as Women’s Work?" The Guardian. 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/06/eco-gender-gap-why-saving-planet-seen-womens-work.; Susan Clayton et. "Psychological Research and Global Climate Change." Nature climate change 5, no. 7 (2015): 640-46. https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2622.; Ruixia Han, and Jian Xu. "A Comparative Study of the Role of Interpersonal Communication, Traditional Media and Social Media in Pro-Environmental Behavior: A China-Based Study." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17, no. 6 (2020): 1883. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17061883.