When do values promote pro-environmental behaviors? Multilevel evidence on the self-expression hypothesis

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Research has suggested that values favoring the interest of the collective over that of the individual promote pro-environmental behaviors. However, it is also well-documented that people do not always act according to their values; the strength of the association between values and behaviors depends on sociocultural contexts. The present investigation examines under what sociocultural contexts the association between self-transcendence values/self-enhancement values and pro-environmental behaviors would be stronger or weaker. In contexts with a stronger emphasis on self-expression, individuals should be more ready to base their behavioral decisions on personal values. In contexts that restrict self-expression, individuals should be less likely to do so. Accordingly, I posit that the strength of association between values and pro-environmental behaviors depends on how much the societal contexts encourage self-expression. With two international data sets (World Values Survey 5 and 6), I found supporting evidence to this hypothesized account. Findings from multilevel analyses revealed that the self-transcendence values/self-enhancement-pro-environmental behaviors association was weaker among societies with higher levels of cultural and socio-ecological restrictiveness (e.g., lower self-expression values and economic development). These findings not only elucidate when values would promote or deter pro-environmental behaviors but also highlight the need to consider a person-context interaction in understanding how personal factors are translated into pro-environmental behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101361
JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Cross-national variation
  • Pro-environmental behavior
  • Self-enhancement values
  • Self-expression
  • Self-transcendence values

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology

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