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EMAC 2019 Annual Conference

How Non-Profit Marketing Can Use the Self-Protection Motive to Induce Sustainable Behavior

Published: May 28, 2019


Tobias Hinze, University of Cologne; Magdalena Bekk, University of Cologne; Franziska Völckner, University of Cologne; Valentyna Melnyk, Massey University


self-protection; sustainable behavior; evolutionary psychology


While most people agree that consequences of e.g., water pollution are health threatening, they are surprisingly apathetic when it comes to actually performing sustainable behavior. Thus, one major challenge NGOs and public policy advocates face is how to activate those consumers and induce more sustainable behavior. The authors propose that activating the evolutionary self-protection motive triggers a set of functionally relevant responses, which in turn induce sustainable behavior. In two experimental studies, the authors test the two core factors, which trigger self-protection, namely avoidability of the threat and distance to the threat as well as related sustainable behavior. The results suggest that activating the self-protection motive by communicating threats as being close and unavoidable induces both short-term sustainable behavior (such as one-off donation), as well as behavior with long-term consequences (boycotting, and especially switching behavior).