Self-licensing in recycling behavior
: investigating the effects of economic incentives on resource consumption

  • Deniz Marangoz (Student)

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Accepted as a negative spillover in behavioral research, the concept of self-licensing states that performing good behavior tends to make individuals feel better or less guilty about themselves, which decreases the likelihood of engagement in subsequent good acts. Self-licensing is also observed in recycling behavior. Performing recycling might have environmentally undesired outcomes like increasing subsequent consumption due to positive feeling enhancement or guilt reduction. However, although real-life waste-management policies often financially reward or penalize households for their recycling behavior, no studies in the recycling behavior literature investigate potential licensing effects of economic incentives. To reduce this gap in literature, an experimental setting to test the effects of recycling incentives on the licensing relationship was created via an online survey, where participants were randomly assigned to two groups. In order to capture the licensing effects created by recycling incentives, income and substitution effects (another impact of economic incentives on consumption) were controlled in the model. Following previous self-licensing studies, “donations” was also included as an alternative dependent measure, to see whether recycling incentives lead to self-licensing in different behavioral domains. Furthermore, the moderating roles of environmental self-identity, different cultural dimensions and the difficulty of the recycling task were checked to see if they alleviated or exacerbated the licensing effect. Results revealed significant positive indirect effects between recycling rewards and both of the dependent measures (consumption and donations), via positive feelings. This means that although recycling incentives may increase consumption by enhancing positive feelings, they might also have pro-social outcomes (i.e., increase in donations). These mixed results indicate that more empirical studies on the licensing effects of economic incentives are needed, in order to give better insights for future waste-management policies.
Date of Award1 Feb 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Universidade Católica Portuguesa
SupervisorIan James Scott (Supervisor)


  • Recycling
  • Self-licensing
  • Economic incentives
  • Pro-environmental behavior
  • Negative spillover
  • Pro-social behavior


  • Mestrado em Psicologia na Gestão e Economia

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