A Social Identity Model of Pro-Environmental Action (SIMPEA)

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Large-scale environmental crises are genuinely collective phenomena: they usually result from collective, rather than personal, behavior and how they are cognitively represented and appraised is determined by collectively shared interpretations (e.g., differing across ideological groups) and based on concern for collectives (e.g., humankind, future generations) rather than for individuals. Nevertheless, pro-environmental action has been primarily investigated as a personal decision-making process. We complement this research with a social identity perspective on pro-environmental action. Social identity is the human capacity to define the self in terms of “We” instead of “I,” enabling people to think and act as collectives, which should be crucial given personal insufficiency to appraise and effectively respond to environmental crises. We propose a Social Identity Model of Pro-Environmental Action (SIMPEA) of how social identity processes affect both appraisal of and behavioral responses to large-scale environmental crises. We review related and pertinent research providing initial evidence for the role of 4 social identity processes hypothesized in SIMPEA. Specifically, we propose that ingroup identification, ingroup norms and goals, and collective efficacy determine environmental appraisals as well as both private and public sphere environmental action. These processes are driven by personal and collective emotions and motivations that arise from environmental appraisal and operate on both a deliberate and automatic processing level. Finally, we discuss SIMPEA’s implications for the research agenda in environmental and social psychology and for interventions fostering pro-environmental action.

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