Tag Archives: Environment

Help yourself by helping others: Lessons from the Fargo flood fight

Image created by contributors to the Fargo Forum

By Kevin R. Betts

Around this time of year almost annually, residents of Fargo, ND and surrounding cities get together to do something most people couldn’t imagine doing even once. They self-mobilize to fight a flood that threatens to destroy the livelihoods of thousands of citizens. Residents voluntarily take time off from work or school, show up at various locations specified by city officials, and fill and place millions of sandbags. In 2009, residents witnessed a 43 foot river crest that likely would have overtaken the city without these efforts. With record precipitation levels this year, city officials are again asking residents to volunteer their time to flood protection efforts. This year’s goal: three million sandbags.

If you imagine yourself faced with fighting a flood year after year to save your own city, you might direct your attention to the psychological or financial costs of such a fight. And certainly these costs are real. Yet, as a current resident of Fargo, I can tell you that volunteers in this effort accrue social and psychological benefits as well. I’ve listened to friends and neighbors describe these benefits, as well as experienced them myself. For example, the yearly flood fight brings the region’s citizens together in unique ways. Ensuring that the region is protected from the flood is a common goal that all the volunteers share. Thus, volunteers can often be seen working collaboratively with individuals they might not normally associate with. It is clear that volunteers derive a sense of self-worth from having contributed to these common goals as well. Working together and helping one another feels good. It is with an immense sense of pride that volunteers can say that they themselves prevented an environmental catastrophe.

My observations and experiences in Fargo suggest that volunteer work has social and psychological benefits. Research by Piliavin (2008) supports this notion empirically and takes it one step further. She provides evidence that volunteer work over one’s lifetime contributes not only to positive psychological health outcomes, but also to positive physical health outcomes. She draws these conclusions based on longitudinal data from 10,317 women and men who varied in the extent to which they volunteered throughout their lives. Although the manner in which lifelong volunteer work impacts psychological and physical health is complex, it is not difficult to understand because it follows a relatively straightforward path. First, volunteering enhances social integration. Second, social integration attained through volunteering promotes volunteer motives and identity. Third, this volunteer identity promotes a sense of personal worth from having contributed to helping others. Finally, this sense of personal worth enhances psychological well-being which can impact physical health. This is important. People who volunteer consistently throughout their lives are healthier psychologically and physically as a result.

Although the costs of fighting a flood almost annually are enormous, my observations along with research by Piliavin (2008) suggest that volunteers may accrue some benefits. If you are looking for another reason to volunteer your time to cause that matters to you, remember that you may be doing more than helping others. You may be helping yourself!

Read more

Lines of defense: Fargo planning sandbag distribution around city (Fargo Forum)

Piliavin, J.A. (2008). Long-term benefits of habitual helping: Doing well by doing good. In B.A. Sullivan, M. Snyder, & J.L. Sullivan (Eds.), Cooperation: The political psychology of effective human interaction (pp. 241-258). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

See other posts by Kevin R. Betts

We’re all in this together… doing it in our own way

By: Christopher C. Duke, Ph.D.

Yep, this picture is kind of cheesy.For better or for worse, global issues like climate change are bound up with existing social identities (Recap: a social identity is any type of social group in which someone is a member and feels a psychological sense of identification with the group.) This means that the practical scientific issues become entangled with social psychological issues. Protection of the natural environment has become associated with particular identities – you can imagine the stereotype of an environmentalist, and the many epithets this evokes (“granola eater,” “tree hugger,” etc.) This means people who identify as an environmentalist may be spurred to further positive action, but people who do not identify with the stereotype of an environmentalist may be put off from taking positive environmental action. In America, belief in climate change is segregated by party lines.

For issues like climate change, a small group of people, no matter how committed, just won’t be enough to cut it. We need all types of people, especially people that are psychologically repelled from the issue because of antagonism towards the stereotype of environmentalists. This is a problem, but it can be overcome. For example, Cohen (2003) experimentally demonstrated that people did not support political policies based on whether the policy matched their stated political views. Instead, the biggest factor was whether people identified with the political party that proposed the policy – if “we” support it, it must be good, but if “they” support it, it must be bad.

Ultimately, this means that dissimilar people are much more likely to get on board for taking action on climate change if their leaders forge their own self-determined path to promote the issue of climate change. Importing a disliked outgroup’s “brand” of environmentalism can backfire spectacularly. Disparate social groups need their own unique style of environmentalism. Fortunately, that is already happening. For example, Carbon Nation is a new documentary about climate change, aimed at politically conservative people who are typically resistant to the conventional image of environmentalism, and would not respond to a movie like An Inconvenient Truth. In Carbon Nation, the people who speak about climate change are a former CIA director, a conservative Alaskan, an army colonel, and a Texan farmer. To be sure, we need people like Al Gore and the self-identified tree huggers, but – like it or not – we especially need the hunters, the blue collar workers, and the truck drivers if we are to see effective public action on climate change. You can see the trailer for Carbon Nation here:

If you want a more detailed look at these kinds of issues, my PhD research uses experimental studies to investigate social identity’s role in environmental issues.

Cohen, G.L. (2003). Party over policy: The dominating impact of group influence on political beliefs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(5), 808–822.

Duke, C. C. (2010). Social identity and the environment: The influence of group processes on environmentally sustainable behaviour.

‘Will Carbon Nation succeed where An Inconvenient Truth failed?’ The Guardian.

Earning Moral Credit by Buying “Green”: South Park Was Right All Along!

Remember that episode of South Park when Kyle’s dad gets a hybrid car and suddenly begins to sport a “high and mighty” attitude? With Kyle and Ike in tow, Gerald rides around town in what appears to be Toyota Prius, insulting others who drive non-hybrids, bonding with fellow hybrid owners over their general awesomeness, and blatantly ignoring that “Ike is starving to death” in the backseat. In the bit linked here, the scene ends with Gerald setting off to give “awareness citations” to SUVs in the parking lot of the local hardware store.

The episode certainly got a good chuckle out of viewers – perhaps even some hybrid owners – but who knew at the time that this pattern of behavior was no joke? According to Nina Mazur and Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, new research to be released this month in Psychological Science counterintuitively suggests that supposedly virtuous shopping can actually lead to immoral behavior. They find that although mere exposure to “green” products encourages people to be more altruistic, people who actually purchase these same products are more likely to act immorally or unethically after their purchase in the form of sharing less money with an anonymous partner and, in one study, actually cheating and stealing more money (compared to participants who made purchases at a conventional store). The researchers claim that whereas participants who are merely exposed to “green” products are primed with an air of social responsibility and moral capital, participants who actually get a chance to buy the product subsequently experience a phenomenon known as licensing. That is, a person who purchases a “green” product might come to feel that he has earned some sort of moral credential via the purchase, thereby giving him privilege to engage in future asocial and unethical behavior.

What do you think? Are you a purchaser of “green” products? If so, how many times did you congratulate yourself today on your awesomeness? And, while we’re at it, how many pennies did you steal this week from those nice little “give a penny, take a penny” pots at the local coffee shop? We now understand why you’re doing it, but luckily we don’t have to suffer the stench of your immorality over the exhaust of our Hummers and Jeep SRTs.

Thanks! Season 10: Smug Alert – Clips – South Park Studios

Do Green Products Make Us Better People?

Virtual Conference Report: Day Four (22 Oct, 2009)

800px-COP14_11by paulabowles The conference today has taken on a distinctly environmental feel. First up was Mark Macklin’s (University of Wales, Aberystwyth) keynote address entitled ‘Floodplain Catastrophes and Climate Change: Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Riverine Societies.’ In his paper, Macklin observes that ‘[w]e are not the first society to face the threat of environmental catastrophe,’ although he stresses that the current threat has unique features. Susan Morrison (Texas State University – San Marcos) has taken a highly interdisciplinary approach to her paper ‘Waste Studies ‐ A New Paradigm for Literary Analysis, Something is Rotten in the Denmark of Beowulf and Hamlet’. By combining the disciplines of literature and waste studies, Morrison offers a reminder ‘that the origins of the Anglophone literary canon are sedimented in waste’. Tim Cooper (University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus) continued this theme of waste with his paper ‘Recycling Modernity: Towards an Environmental History of Waste.’ By taking as a starting point the belief that ‘waste was one of the characteristic products of modernity’ Cooper is able to consider why this subject is so fascinating to historians and other social scientists. Before, we head into the fifth day of the conference, just a quick reminder to visit the virtual book exhibit. As a delegate, you are invited to take 20% off the price of any Wiley Book.