Making it Real: Nudging Individuals' Risk Perception of Climate Change to Engage in Pro-environmental Behaviors

Project: Research

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Climate change is a growing threat to human existence. However, most people don't feel immediate threats to their daily lives because climate change risks are psychologically distant and geographically far-away. Behavioral studies suggest that people tend to only act on issues of their immediate concerns, and mitigating climate change risks is certainly not high on their priority-list. How to communicate climate change risks to the public as their matter-of-urgency becomes a challenging task. However, prevailing communication tools are unable to shorten the psychological distance because these tools cannot enable people to experience risk events; thus failing to form their strong risk perceptions. In this research, Virtual Reality (VR) will be used as a ‘nudge’ (elicit people towards behavioral change intrinsically) to enable people to experience climate change risks. The VR nudge creates a ‘mirror reality’ in which viewers can fully experience the impacts of climate risks without having to bear any economic consequences. The underlying assumption is that “people who experienced climate change risk are more likely to seek pro-environmental behaviors (PEBs) as an instrument for preserving nature". However, the effect of VR on shortening psychological distance and PEBs has been insufficiently studied. To fill this gap, we will undertake field experiments to address the following research issues. First, it aims to examine the effects of VR nudge in providing individuals with personalized and realistic experience of climate change risks, in shortening their psychological distance and enhancing their risk perceptions. Second, it will investigate the impact of risk perceptions in engaging in individuals' PEBs. Specifically, VR will be used as a nudge to conceive the temporal-spatial scale and proximity which are essential to shorten the psychological distance (Singh et al., 2017) of climate change risk communication. Through field studies, the effect of VR nudge on influencing individuals’ PEBs will be examined through analyzing behavioral variations in the household energy consumptions before and after the experiments. The research findings are expected to provide a climate communication platform to realistically visualize climate change risks and bring these risks to proximity of public perceptions. Experimental studies will not only explore the intrinsic motivation of PEBs but also quantify the effect of nudge. In addition, the theoretical framework may offer an internalized explanation to climate change risks. Together, the implementation of VR nudge and subsequent experimental data will result in the “soft engineering” work of translating behavioral science into applicable adaptation policy interventions. 


Project number9043101
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/21 → …