Challenging Ingrained Thoughts? The Joint Effect of Stereotypes and Awareness of Related Information on Pro-Environmental Behavior in China

Majid Ghorbani, Liyan Xuan
2018 Sustainability  
This research applies a positive stereotype perspective to test the effect of individuals' choices between pro-environmental versus pro-safety behavior, while considering the role of media exposure. We test our hypotheses in China, where both food-safety and environment are major issues and are widely covered by the media and government reports. Based on a quasi-experiments and survey questionnaires focused on attitudes towards disposable chopsticks, we find that individuals form cognitive
more » ... form cognitive perceptions in ways that either have stronger positive environmental or safety stereotypes. Based on these stereotypes, they either believe that reusable chopsticks are more environmentally friendly or that disposable chopsticks are safer, each impacting individuals' choices differently. In addition, awareness of information related to the environment augments the link between environmental stereotypes and pro-environmental behavior, while having no influence on the effect of safety stereotypes on pro-safety behavior. On the other hand, while awareness of safety-related information accentuates the link between safety-related stereotypes and pro-safety behavior, it has no impact on the effect of environmental stereotypes on pro-environmental behavior. 2 of 20 behavior of individuals, we take an environmental cognition perspective [14] , which indicates that cognition serves as the most significant predictor of behavior. We position ourselves in the environmental cognition literature by focusing on the limitations and barriers of cognition [15] and define environmental cognition as the stereotypical knowledge of the impact of peoples' decisions and actions on the environment. Stereotypical knowledge is the oversimplification of information and characteristics of a person or a group [5] , which is also extended to mean simplifying and codifying information about people or objects [16] and could be positive or negative [17] . Individuals use this codified positive or negative stereotypical knowledge of objects and based on it make subconscious decisions or judgments about these objects [18] . However, there is a very small number of studies [19] exploring the role of stereotyping in the fields of environment and safety work. Apart from cognitive barriers, knowledge and awareness are also important parts of environmental cognition [15] . The salient role that mass media and news play in peoples' environmental participation has been long recognized [20] . Governments use the media to communicate their environmental plans to the public and raise awareness. In this study, we also take a cognitive approach toward this construct and suggest that awareness of environmental and safety issues could increase the effect of environmental cognition as manifested in positive or negative stereotypes. We test our hypotheses in the context of China, where people are engulfed in two types of somewhat related issues: environment and food safety. The first one is related to environmental pollution such as air or land pollution that is a direct result of human activity and consumption. The latter is a struggle for safety, to protect people from unhygienic items related to food and beverages, as well as food containers and eating utensils. We suggest that people have formed oversimplified and stereotypical ideas about both issues, which automatically impact their consumption behavior. In this study, we test these effects fully in a Chinese context-i.e., the choice of reusable or disposable chopsticks-together with exploring the contingent effect of being aware of news reporting on and policies promoting pro-environmental and pro-safety measures. The context of China is very important and interesting in this sense. Since the first environmental protection conference in 1973, China has witnessed a large increase in the implementation of its pro-environmental projects. Nevertheless, the results seem unsatisfactory, regardless of the attitudes or behavior of people, firms and even government officials and policies [3] . Chiu and Tai [21] point to a NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) mindset in China as the basis of this problem. The government uses schools, policies, and the media to raise people's awareness and change their behavior, but there is still major variation between genders and regions [8] . Therefore, various studies [3] suggest looking for the roots of this problem in individuals' psychological characteristics. The safety of food and products are another major issue in China. Many street stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants are said to use gutter oil, an illegal black-market oil that is produced by recycling oil and animal fat disposed of in the garbage and in sewers [22] . Radio Free Asia [23] estimates that about ten percent of such restaurants use gutter oil. Cases of baby formula containing melamine, meat of a questionable type, in addition to unhygienic restaurants and chopsticks have been major concerns in China for decades. China's 2009 food safety laws have created strict rules and punishments for violators. However, a recent news article in the South China Morning Post [24] reports that, in 2017, there were still many cases of production and sale of gutter oil, as well as other food safety issues such as the inclusion of opioids in chili oil being tried in courts in various parts of China. This situation has created a different type of stereotypes among people about the lack of hygiene in many restaurants, such as the assumption that they are not diligent in cleaning their dishes and utensils. These stereotypes are not only about street food, which is more or less being banned in larger cities, and hole-in-the-walls, but also about average restaurants. However, no one has ever really studied the effect of these stereotypes on people's behavior.
doi:10.3390/su10061986 fatcat:wzzlazxd55fhjpdbzi4f54gwfy