Policy Update

Monthly Messenger: Does guilt or pride better motivate environmental decisions?



NCEL Point of Contact

Taylor Anderson
Communications Director

When crafting messages to motivate action, highlighting pride is more effective than guilt

NCEL has created a new monthly update on climate change and environmental messaging research. Be on the lookout for NCEL’s Monthly Messenger the third week of each month.

The emotional impacts of a decision often dictate how people will choose to act. A recent study conducted by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University assessed whether guilt or pride are better for motivating environmental behavioral decisions, such as choosing to recycle, using reusable coffee mugs, or buying a hybrid car. The researchers conducted a survey of 1,050 US participants. The survey first exposed the participants to either a guilt or pride message and then asked them to make a series of environmental decisions.

The results overwhelmingly showed that people were more likely to make better environmental decisions when the message focused on pride, compared to guilt. There is a lot of research that indicates “people respond poorly when told to feel bad about themselves for some perceived moral failing.” Messages that focused on guilt often lead people to get defensive, risking the environmental call to action to backfire.