Mental representation of climate-relevant behaviours: Confirmatory testing of similarity patterns obtained in a card sorting task by young adults

Publication from Life
Internationale Klimapolitik und Ökonomik

Sebastian Seebauer, Hans-Peter Ellmer

Frontiers in Psychology: Environmental Psychology Volume 14 - 2023, 1/2023


Efforts to promote climate-friendly consumption need to address groups of interrelated behaviours; however, experts and laypeople have different perspectives on which climate-relevant behaviours belong together. Understanding laypeople’s mental representations, or the perceived similarity of behaviours, may provide orientation on which behaviours should be promoted in concert in order to communicate comprehensibly and to catalyse spillover. The present study uses data on perceived similarity between 22 climate-relevant behaviours collected from 413 young adults in Austria in an open card sorting task. Five posited categorisations by domain, location, impact, difficulty and frequency are tested in a confirmatory approach for their fit with the observed similarity patterns. By analysing co-occurrence matrices, edit distances and similarity indices, the best fit is found for the null hypothesis of random assignment. Ranking by test statistics shows that the domain categorisation fits next best, followed by impact, frequency, difficulty and location. The categories of waste and advocacy behaviours emerge consistently in lay mental representations. The categories of behaviours with a high carbon footprint and difficult behaviours that are performed by few other people stand out from other, less extreme behaviours. Categorisation fit is not moderated by personal norms, stated competencies and environmental knowledge. The analytical approaches for confirmatory testing of expected categorisations against observed similarity patterns may be applied to analyse any card sorting data.

Keywords: shared concept, pro-environmental behaviour, Grouping, Spillover mechanism, Category system, Taxonomy, mental model