Why do people fail to act? Situational barriers and constraints on pro-ecological behaviour

Rui Gaspar de Carvalho*, José Manuel Palma-Oliveira, Victor Corral-Verdugo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The lack of success in dealing with the inconsistency between positive attitudes and ecological behaviors, and in explaining why people fail to act pro-environmentally is still widespread in practice and research. In our view, this has to do with three main reasons: 1) A positivity fallacy - the belief shared by many researchers and practitioners that as long as people have the right (or positive) attitudes, intentions, skills, information, etc., the right pro-ecological action should follow; thus, they disregard the importance of negative determinants in explaining the attitude-behavior inconsistency. 2) Lack of a psychological level of explanation; even when negative determinants are considered, the psychological explanation is often disregarded or incompletely identified, with most of the factors identified being socio-economical, or urban planning and architectural, etc. However, factors explaining why people fail to act can also be viewed within a psychological level of explanation, with behavior considered to be the result of an interaction between contextual variables and psychological processes. 3) Underestimation of the unconscious processes influence; contextual effects on behavior can be mediated not only by conscious perception but also by cognitive processes of which people are not aware of. Given these reasons, a model of psychological barriers and constraints is proposed (DN-Work model; "Didn't work") trying to integrate negative determinants within a psychological explanatory model of pro-ecological behavior. This model aims to represent a process view regarding how a conflict between pro-ecological and anti-ecological behavioral goals can be produced, given the presence of two types of barriers and constraints: a) perceived barriers and constraints, and b) unconscious barriers and constraints. We briefly present two studies based on this model. These studies address habit accessibility as an unconscious behavioral barrier on ecological decisions to buy organic products, mediated by the effect of behavioral-goals activation from the situation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPsychological approaches to sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationcurrent trends in theory, research and applications
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9781626188778
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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