Campus as Lab Projects Featured in Psychology of Environmental Decision Making course

Posted on May 16, 2016

This spring, Dr. Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist based in the Department of Psychology with joint appointments in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, taught a course titled The Psychology of Environmental Decision Making. Students in the course split up into three teams to explore environmental education and climate change, recycling behavior, and different prompting strategies in the context of plastic bottle consumption.

Stephanie Diu ’16, Jana Suriano ’17, Alejandro Rodriguez Ramirez GS, and Herve Thomas GS titled their study, “The Effect of Environmental Education on Climate Change Related Knowledge, Attitude and Behavior.” They distributed a survey to undergraduate and graduate students in the Environmental Studies program, the Woodrow Wilson School, and various clubs and groups. Overall, they found little evidence to suggest that students who are part of an environmental program are more knowledgeable on climate change issues than those who are not.

recycling bin inspection Bin Inspection

Lisa Cabral GS, Janice Sung ‘17, Joshua Burd ‘17, and Mauricio Loyola GS studied “The Effect of Waste Interaction on Recycling Behavior.” The students conducted surveys and inspected trash and recycling bins to research the role of effort and location in recycling behavior. According to van der Linden, “They found some support for the idea that having to take your items to a recycling location, which requires more effort, stimulates more engagement than having bins directly outside the college dorm.”

A study titled “Stop Frist Plastic: The effectiveness of various prompting strategies at Princeton University,” was conducted by Alistair Berven ‘17, Amy Xie ‘17, and Jack O’Brien ‘17. The goal of the study was to “discover the most effective way to incentivize Princeton students to stop buying plastic water bottles”. The students placed posters directly inside the water coolers at Frist Campus Center and gathered daily data for a total of five weeks.

posters with messages The four poster prompts for the Stop Frist Plastic study

The posters contained messages such as “Don’t buy water bottles from Frist! You are wasting money!;” “Drinking plastic is bad for your health!;” and “Harvard has already eliminated plastic bottles from campus dining centers. Beat Harvard! Don’t buy bottled!” The group was successful in decreasing Frist water bottle sales by over 800 water bottles in the five-week period.

These class projects exemplify the role that the University campus plays as a living laboratory for sustainability problem solving.