If you do good for the environment, you get a warm feeling – literally. Researchers discovered that, in two studies, when volunteers believed they were aiding the environment, they felt that the temperature was higher. People who were designated environmentally friendly gauged the temperature of the room in which they sat to be around 1°C (34°F) greater than those who had been told their behaviour was environmentally unfriendly. One scientist remarked, “It was as if they were enveloped in a warm glow.”
The authors of the report, headed by Danny Taufik of the Dutch University of Griningen, stated in the journal, Nature Climate Change, that acting in a manner beneficial to the environment boosted people’s self concept, literally producing a warm glow. Skin temperature was unaffected.
In this case, psychology students were the experimental fodder. They were asked to fill in a questionnaire regarding their carbon footprint and informed that scores that were lower were indicative of environmentally-friendly behaviour. A bogus carbon footprint score for what they were told was an average student was given to them, against which they could compare their own scores.
Participants were then asked to estimate the temperature of the room they were in. Those who had been told their carbon footprints were better for the environment than the average student made temperature guesses that were significantly higher than those of the participants who were told their scores meant they were less good for Mother Earth.
The researchers stated that environmental policy was frequently based on the assumption that people will be environmentally-friendly if some extrinsic reward such as money will be forthcoming. Their studies, however, determined that helping the planet was intrinsically rewarding – it makes you feel that you’re a good person, something on which green campaigns could capitalise. It could be better to tell people to unplug unused electronic devices because it protects the environment rather than because it saves money.
The phenomenon has been observed elsewhere. Loneliness has been found to cause people to perceive temperatures as lower.
Main source: (1) Nature