Research Methods Header Photo of Clipboard and PenResearch Methods

Click one of the links below or scroll down the page to see:

Lecture/Discussion Topics

Does End Time Belief Cause Climate Change Apathy?

A study by political scientists Barker and Bearce (2013) concluded that Christians who believe in coming “end-times” are less likely to support global warming legislation than other U.S. citizens. However, in a critique of their study, Veldman (2013) pointed out a significant flaw in Barker and Bearce’s attitude measure, which asked participants to indicate the degree to which they agreed with the statement, “Global warming is a problem that requires immediate government action, in order to prevent environmental devastation and catastrophic loss of life for future generations.”  Instructors could ask students to identify the flaw(s) with that measure; e.g., that there are actually four parts to the statement, each of which could prompt differing degrees of agreement.

Veldman conducted a series of focus groups with Christians, and observed a) a generally negative view of government; b) resistance to apocalyptic framing by scientists regarding climate change; and, importantly, c) a sense of “ethical responsibilities vis-à-vis the environment.

Instructors could ask students to read and discuss Pope Francis’s encyclical on  Care for our Common Home or other faith based responses to climate change (see also eponymous exercise below).

Lecture/Discussion Topics

Operational Definitions


Ask students to generate operational definitions for each of the following constructs (or generate others for your class). You could model one or two first, and then split students into small groups for the remainder. Have them discuss their ideas, and choose the “best” definitions. What makes some operational definitions better than others?

Love of nature

Social responsibility


Connection to nature


Sustainable farming

Sustainable behavior  

Water conservation


Environmental concern


Pro-environmental attitudes

Reduced greenhouse gas emissions


Introduction to Empirical Articles

Have students read an article from the literature, and report on the methodology that was utilized: identify constructs, variables and how they were operationalized; the sample/population of interest; the research design: experimental – true, with random assignment to conditions? or quasi-experimental? or correlational?; type of analyses? Were the results statistically significant? How should the results be interpreted? Would a Type I or Type II error be more problematic in this area of research? Any potential confounding variables or other study limitations?

Instructors could assign one of the studies listed below (compiled and abstracted by Tomm, et al. ), a study cited in the text, or ask students to identify one based on their personal interests.

Bolderdijk, J. W., Steg, L., Geller, E. S., Lehman, P. K., & Postmes, T. (2013). Comparing the effectiveness of monetary versus moral motives in environmental campaigning. Nature Climate Change, 3(4), 413-416.

The authors investigated relative effectiveness of economic versus moral appeals on subjective affect and behaviour.  Economic (egocentric) versus moral (biospheric) appeals to motivate tire-checking behaviour were manipulated experimentally and in a field study.  Measures included predicted subjective affect about complying with the behavioural appeals (studies 1, 2), and whether or not subjects took advantage of a “free tire check” coupon in a field study (study 3).  The authors found that participants were more likely respond to, and anticipate feeling better acting according to biospheric appeals, while economic appeals made participants less likely to take advantage of the free tire check than a control condition.

Osbaldiston, R., & Schott, J. P. (2011). Environmental sustainability and behavioral science: Meta-analysis of proenvironmental behavior experiments. Environment and Behavior, 44, 257-299.

What types of experimental treatments have most effectively promoted pro-environmental behaviour?  The authors performed a meta-analysis on 87 published reports containing 253 experiments. It was found that treatments incorporating elements of cognitive dissonance, goal setting, social modelling, and prompts yielded the largest effect sizes.  

Yoeli, E., Hoffman, M., Rand, D. G., & Nowak, M. A. (2013). Powering up with indirect reciprocity in a large-scale field experiment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110, 10424-10429.

Does observability increase public cooperation behavior?  The authors manipulated observability of participation in a public electricity-reduction program.  The key dependent measure was actual rate of participation in the program. The authors conclude that observability increases participation in the public good program, especially in apartment buildings, where observability is high.  

Lecture/Discussion Topics

Scale Construction: Examples Related To The Environment

Several measures related to environmental attitudes and behaviors can be used to illustrate scale construction issues including how to write items, response formats, item analysis, validity, reliability, internal consistency, generalizability concerns (e.g., age, cross-cultural variation), etc. Examples can be fopxund in the following articles:

Mayer, F. S., & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 503-515.

This article describes five studies assessing the validity and reliability of the CNS, an individual-difference measure of affective connection to the natural world. Scale shows decent internal consistency, unidimensionality, test-retest reliability, convergent validity, and is a good predictor of relevant behavior (i.e., ecological behavior, lifestyle patterns, and students’ curriculum choices). This scale is an example of a operational definition of an ecopsychological concept. Article includes items and response scale. Sample items: “I often feel a sense of oneness with the natural world around me,” “My personal welfare is independent of the welfare of the natural world.”

Clayton, S. (2003). Environmental identity: A conceptual and an operational definition. In S. Clayton & S. Opotow (Eds.), Identity and the natural environment (pp. 45-65). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

In this chapter, social psychologist Susan Clayton presents the theoretical and empirical justification for her 24-item Environmental Identity Scale (EID) that was designed to measure “the extent to which the natural environment plays an important part in a person’s self-definition” (p. 52). Inspired by others’ work on social identity, Clayton included items to address the salience of nature (to what extent does the individual interact with nature), idealogy associated with the identity (support for environmental education and a sustainable lifestyle), and associated positive emotions (enjoyment obtained in nature). Clayton describes how she tested convergent, discriminant, and predictive validity. The scale items are presented in an appendix.

Dunlap, R., Van Liere, K., Mertig, A., & Jones, R. E., (2000). Measuring endorsement of the New Ecological Paradigm: A revised NEP scale. Journal of Social Issues,56, 425-442.

The original 12-item New Environmental Paradigm scale can be found in Dunlap & Van Liere (1978). In this 2000 article, the original authors and colleagues present a revision in which ecological worldview is assessed more broadly. Specifically, the authors have expanded the facets of this worldview from the original three, ” balance of nature, ” ” limits to growth, ” and “antianthropocentrism, ” to also include the idea of human exemption from the contraints of nature and the belief that there is an impending global environmental crisis. The authors have also modified the scale so that pro-NEP and anti-NEP items are evenly balanced and gender-fair language is used (i. e., ” humans” instead of ” mankind”). The article offers a summary of research on the validity and dimensionality of the original NEP scale. In 2008, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the NEP, the Journal of Environmental Education reprinted the original 1978 article along with a new essay by Dunlap (2008) in which he discusses the development, revisions, criticisms and current uses of the NEP Scale. This would be good to use with students to help demonstrate how psychological instruments evolve as a result of their use.

Kuhn, R. G., & Jackson, G. L. (1989). Stability of factor structures in the measurement of public environmental attitudes. Journal of Environmental Education, 20(3) , 27-32.

These authors administered a 21-item scale that combined modified items from Dunlap & Van Liere’s (1978) New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) and Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP) scales. After administering the items to hundreds of Canadian participants, the researchers factor analyzed the data. Their results yielded four factors that they suggest represent four primary areas of concern: the consequences of growth and technology, quality of life, the relationship between humans and nature, and limits to the biosphere.

Lindeman, M., & Vaananen, M. (2000). Measurement of ethical food choice motives.Appetite,34, 55-59.

In this article the authors describe how they developed three sets of items based on previous research on vegetarianism and “ethical food choice motives,” administered the items to samples of adults, and factor analyzed the results. They report that their confirmatory factor analysis supported their theoretical distinctions between the three motives for making ethical food choices: ecological welfare, political values, and religion.

Kaiser, F. G., & Wilson M. (2000). Assessing people’s general ecological behavior: A cross-cultural measure. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 952-978.

The authors present a revision of Kaiser’s (1998) General Ecological Behavior (GEB) scale for cross-cultural application. In addition to the cross-cultural issue, the authors discuss issues related to response format and testing of reliability, internal consistency, and discriminant validity.

Musser, L. M., & Malkus, A. J. (1994). The Children’s Attitudes Toward the Environment scale Journal of Environmental Education, 25(2), 22-26.

This scale, which was designed for grade-school children, includes three types of statements (“I think…”, “I do…”, and “I like…”) addressing a variety of environmental issues (recycling, conservation, animal rights/protection, nature appreciation, pollution). The article includes scale items and scoring instructions. The first author later created a version for use with preschool children that can be found in Musser & Diamond (1999).

Schultz, P. W. (2001). Assessing the structure of environmental concern: Concern for the self, other people, and the biosphere. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21, 327-339.

Describes a single-item measure of the degree to which nature is included within an individual’s representation of self. Respondents indicate which of seven pairs of circles labled “me” and “nature,” and varying from non-overlapping to nearly completely overlapping, best represents their sense of self connection to nature.

Smith-Sebasto, N. J., & D’Costa, A. (1995). Designing a Likert-style scale to predict environmentally responsible behavior in undergraduate students: A multistep process. Journal of Environmental Education, 27, 14-20.

This article provides an overview of some steps involved in scale construction. The authors organize the article by the following subheaders:

  • Step 1- Define environmental action domain and develop test items
  • Step 2- Verify categories or dimensionality of test
  • Step 3- Select response strategy or test
  • Step 4- Select and revise items based on item analysis
  • Step 5- Conduct validation studies
  • Step 6- Conduct discrimination and classification studies

Lecture/Discussion Topics

Demonstrating Correlation

When discussing correlational studies, instructors could administer the following two scales (adapted from Kaiser, Wolfing & Fuhrer, 1999) in class (*note that some of the behavioral items should be reversed scored – ask students to identify which ones (#3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13)), or select other measures, and then calculate the correlation coefficient between the two. Note that in sustainability focused classes, the correlation may be quite small due to restriction of range. One could then replicate the study in a different class; ask students to hypothesize which class(es) might yield different results. This could lead into a discussion of sampling (random vs. convenience vs. biased). Finally, discuss the inability to infer causality (directionality and third variable problems). Have students generate hypothesized relationships between the variables, including potential third variables.


Research Questions

(Adapted from Bell et al.)

In groups of 2-3, ask students to generate a hypothesis about sustainability-relevant behaviors (or, alternatively, assign each group a research question), and ask them to discuss how they could test the hypothesis/answer the question using an experimental, quasi-experimental, or correlational design.  They could then discuss their ideas with the rest of the class. You could also ask them to consider some of the ideas described, and weigh the pros and cons of using a different methodology. The intention is to demonstrate the relative advantages and disadvantages of field studies, experimentation, quasi-experimentation, correlational studies, interviews, etc. for different kinds of research questions.


Film: The Consensus Research Project

The Consensus research project in Ireland “uses social science and collaborative research methods to explore innovative policy, technology and educational initiatives for sustainable household consumption practices relating to food, water, energy, and mobility.“  They also have a trailer about transitions to sustainable consumption (2013, 1:53).



Film: Extraneous and Confounding Variables

There’s a short animation that illustrates extraneous and confounding variables, random assignment, and error variance.



Aizenstat, S. (1995). Jungian psychology and the world unconscious. In T. Roszak, M. E. Gomes, &

A. D. Kanner (Eds.) Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 92-100). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Angell, J. R. (1909). Darwin’s influence on psychology. Psychological Review, 16, 152-169.

Baldwin, E. (1993). The case for animal research in psychology. Journal of Social Issues, 49, 121-131.

Barker, D. C., & Bearce, D. H. (2013). End-times theology, the shadow of the future, and public resistance to addressing global climate change. Political Research Quarterly, 66, 267-279. doi: 10.1177/1065912912442243

Bowd, A., & Shapiro, K. J. (1993). The case against laboratory animal research in psychology. Journal of Social Issues, 49, 133-142.

Bjork, D. W. (1997). William James: The center of his vision. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Boston, T. (1996). Ecopsychology: An earth-psyche bond. Trumpeter. Retrieved August 16, 2006 from

Cahalan, W. (1995). The earth is our real body: Cultivating ecological groundedness in Gestal therapy, Gestalt Journal, 18, 99-100.

Davis, J. (1998). The transpersonal dimensions of ecopsychology: Nature, nonduality, and spiritual practice. Humanistic Psychologist, 26, 51-67.

Dewsbury, D. (1990). Early interactions between animal psychologists and animal activists and the founding of the APA Committee on Precautions in Animal Experimentation. American Psychologist, 45, 315-327.

Fisher, A. (2002). Radical ecopsychology: Psychology in the service of life. New York: State University of New York Press.

James, W. (1899/1912). On some of life’s ideals: On a certain blindness in human beings: What makes a life significant (pp. 3-46). New York: Henry Holt & Co.

James, W. (1890). The Principles of Psychology. New York: Holt.

Kaiser, F. G., Wolfing, S., & Fuhrer, U. (1999). Environmental attitude and ecological behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 19, 1-19.

Knight, S., Vrij, A., Bard, K., & Brandon, D. (2009). Science versus human welfare? Understanding attitudes toward animal use. Journal of Social Issues, 65(3), 463-483. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2009.01609.x

Kuhn, J. (2001). Toward an ecological humanistic psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 41, 9-24.

Penn, D., & Mysterud, I. (Eds.) (2005). Evolutionary perspectives on environmental problems (Evolutionary foundations of human behavior). Somerset, NJ: Aldine Transaction.

Pinker, S. (2002). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. New York: Viking.

Reser, J. P. (1995). Whither environmental psychology? The transpersonal ecopsychology crossroads. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 235-257.

Richards, J. M., Jr. (2000). A history of Division 34: The division of population and environmental psychology. In D. A. Dewsbury (Ed.) Unification through division, histories of the divisions of the American Psychological Association, (Vol. 5, pp. 113-136). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sabini, M. (Ed.) (2002). The Earth has a soul: The nature writings of C.G. Jung. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Saucier, D. A., & Cain, M. E. (2006). The foundations of attitudes about animal research. Ethics & Behavior, 16, 117-133.

Saunders, C. D. (2003). The emerging field of conservation psychology. Human Ecology Review, 10, 137-149.

Schroll, M. A. (2003). Remembering ecopsychology’s origins: A chronicle of meetings, conversations, and significant publications. Gatherings: Journal of the International Community for Ecopsychology [online]. Retrieved August 16, 2006 from

Scull, J. (1999). Ecopsychology: Where does it fit in psychology? Online verion of paper presented at the annual psychology conference, Malaspina University College, March 26, 1999. Retrieved August 16, 2006 from

Skinner, B. F. (1948). Walden Two. New York: Macmillan.

Skinner, B. F. (1987). Upon further reflection. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Swanson, J. (1995). The call for Gestalt’s contribution to ecopsychology: Figuring in the environmental field. Gestalt Journal, 18, 47-85.

Thoreau, H. D. (1854). Walden; or, Life in the woods. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.

Van Vugt, M., Griskevicius, V., & Schultz, P. W. (2014). Naturally green: Harnessing stone age psychological biases to foster environmental behavior. Social Issues and Policy Review, 8(1), 1-32. doi: 10.1111/sipr.12000

Veldman, R. G. (2013, August 20). Does end time belief really cause climate change apathy? Religion Dispatches. Retrieved 10/8/15 from

Wilson M., Daly M., & Gordon S. (1998) The evolved psychological apparatus of human decision-making is one source of environmental problems. In T Caro (Ed.), Behavioral ecology and conservation biology (pp.501-523). New York: Oxford University Press.

Yunt, J. D. (2001). Jung’s contribution to an ecological psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 41, 96-121.