Moral Decision Making (Schwarzt & Howard, 1981) and Norm-Activation Model (Schwartz, 1977)

Environmentally friendly behavior depends on personal norms, social motives (whether or not the behavior is tolerated by the social environment), and other motives such as cost-benefit assessment (see Expectancy-Value Theory).

Active behavior (activation) occurs when the acting person perceives that a problem exists that can be related to his or her own behavior, and that he or she can contribute to a problem solution (i.e. has the appropriate skills and abilities). Then the costs and benefits of the behavior are weighed up. If the costs are too high, the behavior is omitted. High costs could be habits. These can be so strong that (moral) norm activation and the associated cognitive processes are blocked from the start.

If the costs of behavior are estimated as too high, information about the sense of environmentally friendly behavior alone is no longer sufficient. Instead, a defense against responsibility and a justification reaction is developed (see also cognitive dissonance). Thus, the action is omitted.

In order to assume responsibility (instead of fending it off because the individual costs are considered too high), it could be helpful:

  • to increase self-efficacy; i.e. to show which options for action are available and how they can be easily and effectively appropriated;
  • offering self-commitment strategies in combination with a strong change in habits that is only temporary; e.g., granting free tickets for public transport for a certain period of time and committing oneself to use this free ticket (Fujii & Gärling, 2003); at best, a more positive experience with public transport is made than previously assumed – this leads to a changed and increased motivation to change the previous habit and establish a new one (e.g., to use public transport more often).

The smaller the steps (avoidance of too high costs!) of behavioral change, which has so far been outside of our habits and previous abilities, the easier this change is for us.


Matthies, E. (2005). Wie können PsychologInnen ihr Wissen besser an die PraktikerIn bringen? Vorschlag eines neuen integrativen Einflussschemas umweltbewussten Alltagshandelns. Umweltpsychologie, 9, 62–81.