Should I Recycle or Not?: Effects of Attitude Strength and Social Pressure

Should I Recycle or Not?: Effects of Attitude Strength and Social Pressure

Ineke Uyttersprot (Ghent University, Belgium) and Iris Vermeir (Ghent University, Belgium)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4430-4.ch012
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Pro-environmental attitudes do not always result in environmentally friendly behavior. To determine how ecologically friendly behavior can be stimulated, some attitudinal, situational, and personal variables that have been shown to affect attitude-consistent behavior are investigated in influencing recycling behavior. Previous research has shown contradictory results concerning attitude strength, social pressure, and the attitude-behavior relationship. Either strong attitudes or strong situations predict attitude-behavioral consistency. The results indicate that attitude strength is a more powerful predictor of attitude-behavior consistency than social pressure. Strong attitudes are more likely to result in attitude-consistent behavior, regardless of social pressure. Only when attitudes are weaker does social pressure have an impact on attitude-behavior consistency. Moreover, this effect is moderated by individuals’ levels of self-monitoring.
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Consumers’ engagement in pro-environmental behavior is, despite the continued efforts, still difficult to predict. Little empirical evidence exists to support that pro-environmental attitudes and beliefs generally translate into environmentally conscious behavior such as recycling (Knussen, Yule, MacKenzie, & Wells, 2004; Lee & Holden, 1999; Hume, 1991). As mentioned before, several variables have been identified that might moderate the attitude-behavior relationship.

According to Tanner (1999), especially personal factors are put forward to explain the attitude-behavior inconsistency, while contextual behavior related factors are often neglected. However, behavior often depends on an immediate situation that might impose different constraints on behavior than on verbal expressions of an attitude (Wallace, Paulson, Lord, & Bond, 2005). Smith and Terry (2003) concluded that attitude-behavior relations cannot be well understood without reference to the social context in which behavioral decisions are made and enacted. This conclusion has led to the presumption that in some instances, i.e. in ‘strong’ situations - which induce expectancies regarding the most appropriate response pattern, compared to ‘weak’ situations, which do not generate uniform expectancies (Mischel, 1977) -, the contextual factor instead of attitudes will be predictive of the attitude-behavior consistency. Attitudes and other personal dispositions thus seem to predict behavior better in weak situations than in strong ones. So do Wallace et al. (2005) argue that attitude becomes less of a determinant of behavior to the extent that people perceive strong social pressure (which is a determinant of strong situations) to act favorably toward an attitude object. Indeed, previous research has already shown that strong social pressure is important in promoting and encouraging recycling behavior (Wallace, et al., 2005; Gardner & Stern, 1996), more than environmental concern or pro-environmental attitudes which often fail to correspond to behavior (Tanner, 1999).

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