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The effect of personal values on the attitude towards the environment: Case study of Gen Y and Shopping leadership

The effect of personal values on the attitude towards the environment has received significant attention from researchers. There has also been the development of theories that try to explain why personal values are an important factor that influences the attitude of people towards the environment. There many studies that examine personal values and how they influence various aspects which include the behavior of people, how people treat others, and the attitude of individuals towards society and the environment. However, the focus of this literature review is on the effect of personal value on the attitude towards the environment.  It will highlight the theories on personal values and how they influence the attitude of people towards the environment.

There are several theories that explain the effect of personal values on the attitude towards the environment. They include the norm-activation model, the value-belief-norm theory, and the theory of planned behavior. The norm-activation model is one of the earliest theories that explain the effect of personal values on the attitude towards the environment. It indicates that personal norms are influenced by two factors: the awareness that engaging or failure to engage in a specific behavior has particular consequences and the feeling that one is responsible for performing the specific behavior. The norm-activation model looks at the behavior of people as a chain reaction of three variables: adverse consequence, ascribed responsibility, and personal norm. The adverse consequence, in this case, is the awareness that failure to act in a particular way may have negative effects on others (Benyamin, Djuwita & Ariyanto, 2018). Ascribe responsibility, on the other hand, is a sense of responsibility to the possible negative effects due to failure to act in a certain way. Lastly, the personal norm is the moral obligation for one to act or refuse to act in a particular way (Benyamin, Djuwita & Ariyanto, 2018). A higher adverse consequence results in a higher ascribed responsibility and personal norm. Personal norm, in turn, drives one to act in a particular way, in this case, pro-environmentally.

The value-belief-norm theory is an extension of the norm-activation model. Like the norm activation model, the value-belief-norm theory is also founded on a causal chain of values, beliefs, and personal norms for responsible behavior towards the environment. The theory also emphasizes the significance of altruistic value on people’s environmentally responsible behavior (Stern et al., 1999). The theory implies that altruistic values and egoistic values among people results in a new ecological paradigm, which leads to an increase in the awareness of the consequences of failure to act in an environmentally responsible way. The enhanced awareness of the consequences of inaction causes one to feel more responsible (Stern et al., 1999). Lastly, the increase in ascribed responsibility leads to the development of pro-environmental norms, which causes one to engage in behaviors that are aimed to conserve the environment.

The theory of planned behavior posits that behavior is on intention; that is, the likelihood that one will engage in a specific behavior. Under the theory of planned behavior, the intention is influenced by attitudes and subjective norms (Raygor, 2016). The theory of planned behavior is also related to the value-belief-norm theory and norm activation model because it is also a consequence of some form of chain reaction (Raygor, 2016). For instance, the behavior, under this theory, is a consequence of intention while the intention to engage in a particular action is a consequence of attitudes and subjective norms.

The three theories highlight the significance of personal values on the attitude and behavior towards the environment. The theories imply that the kind of values that one has determines how they behave and act towards the environment. The theories also raise another important point, which is the awareness of the consequences of one’s actions or inaction. Several studies have been carried on personal values and how they relate to attitudes towards the environment. For example, Kim and Stepchenkova (2018) examine the effect of personal values and attitudes on responsible behavior towards the environment. Altruistic value is the demonstration of selfless concern for the wellbeing of others. The findings of this study imply that individuals who have altruistic values are likely to have a positive attitude towards the environment. The findings in the study are in line with all the three theories, which acknowledge the significance of personal values in determining the attitude and behavior of people towards the environment.

Personal values are related to attitude, concerns, and behaviors. According to Schultz et al. (2005), values that people hold are significantly associated with environmental attitudes and concerns. Additionally, Schultz et al. (2005) found that self-transcendence values are positively related to biospheric environmental concerns. However, these values were negatively related to egoistic environmental concerns. Self-enhancement values, on the other hand, are positively related to egoistic environmental concerns but negatively related biospheric concerns. The relationships of the variables can be understood better by analyzing what each aspect means. Self-transcendence ideals are the values that go beyond the individual limits. An individual with self-transcendence values considers themselves as part of the universe. Self-enhancement values, on the other hand, focuses on the personal gratification and attaining of social status and prestige (Schultz et al., 2005). Biospheric environmental concerns are focused on the welfare of the biosphere. In this case, individuals that have biospheric environmental concerns focus on improving the state of the environment with no particular aim. Egoistic environmental concerns, on the other hand, are associated with the self with regard to the environment. In this case, one is concerned with how the environment affects them and tries to adjust it to ensure it serves them better.

The findings of Schultz et al. (2005) suggest that the kind of values people possess determine the type of attitude towards the environment they uphold. For instance, individuals with self-enhancement values have an egoistic attitude towards the environment. Such people will only act towards the environment if it benefits them. On the other hand, individuals with self-enhancement values are likely to act in a way that aimed to conserve the environment for the sake of it. The findings in this study agree with the general consensus among researchers about the effect of personal values on the attitude towards the environment (Schultz et al., 2005). The conclusions suggest that that positive personal values result in positive attitudes towards the environment and vice versa. The positive values, in this case, are the values that go beyond personal gains.

In a general study, Plombon (2011) examines the factors that affect pro-environmental attitudes. However, the focus of the study is on the post-materialist values. Plombon (2011) explores how post-materialist values, which are values that are focused on issues beyond material gains. One of the findings of the study is that affluence is not necessarily related to pro-environmental attitudes. Religiousness and education, on the other hand, were found to be positively associated with pro-environmental attitudes. The study by Plombon (2011) brings into focus a critical point, that is, factors that influence values in people, which determine the attitude of individuals towards the environment. The study suggests that religion instills pro-environmental values among people, leading to a positive attitude towards the environment. Education, in contrast, increases the awareness about the environment and the factors that negatively affect it. However, these findings defy the sequence suggested by theories that consider awareness as a consequence of the values that one holds. In this case, education is one of the factors that influence the values of the environment.

In her study, Da Costa Diniz (2016) also examines how values influence how people act towards the environment. They found that values one holds determine how they engage with the environment. The study focused on self-enhancement and self-transcendence. Da Costa Diniz (2016) found that individuals with self-enhancement values have a negative attitude towards the environment while people with self-transcendence values have a positive attitude. The findings in this study concur with those of Schultz et al. (2005) who also established a positive relationship between self-transcendence values and pro-environmental attitudes. As such, Da Costa Diniz (2016) suggests that values are a significant factor that determines how people behave and act towards the environment.

Feinberg and Willer (2013) look at the effect of political ideology among American conservatives and liberals, and how this affects the attitude towards the environment. They established that liberals considered environmental issues as moral while conservatives considered them not to be moral.  From this study, political ideologies partly determine the values that one holds, which influence the attitude towards the environment. On their part, Steg et al. (2014) established that hedonic values were negatively related to pro-environmental attitudes. These findings are in line with other studies that indicate that values which are focused on personal gratification are negatively related to pro-environmental values.

Other studies also point to a significant relationship value and attitude towards the environment. For instance, in their study, Leonidou, Leonidou and Kvasova (2010) found that the attitude towards the environment is influenced by political, cultural, and ethical factors, which determine the values that one holds. For instance, as demonstrated by Feinberg and Willer (2013), political ideologies determine how people view issues. Leonidou, Leonidou and Kvasova (2010) thereby suggest that values influence the attitude of people towards the environment. Studies by Gatersleben, Murtagh and Abrahamse (2014), Steg, Bolderdijk, Keizer and Perlaviciute (2014) and De Groot and Steg (2010) also agree with the general consensus about the influence of values on attitudes towards the environment. For example, Gatersleben, Murtagh and Abrahamse (2014) found that values such as self-enhancement, self-transcendence, openness to change, and conservatism influence significantly the attitude towards the environment. For instance, people characterized by self-enhancement values are unlikely to stop using their cars for the sake of conserving the environment.

From the analysis of the studies, values are an important factor that influences the attitude towards the environment. The studies are in line with the norm activation model, the value-belief-norm theory, and the theory of planned behavior, all of which connect values to attitudes and behavior towards the environment. However, the studies fail to focus to consider the fact that the attitude towards the environment is also significantly influenced by knowledge and awareness of the existing environmental issues. As demonstrated by Plombon (2011), education is one of the factors that positively influence the attitude towards the environment. However, the question that arises is whether education instills the values that result in a positive attitude towards the environment or it merely raises the awareness of the environmental issues and that the attitude that one has is dependent on values that are independent of education. However, it is hard to determine this relationship, considering that both values and education have been associated with the attitude towards the environment (Feinberg & Willer, 2013). Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that education plays an important role in determining how people behave towards the environment by raising awareness. As such, it is possible that education may change the values that one holds, particularly with respect to the environment. By raising awareness of environmental issues, it is possible that one may change the way they think about the environment. Also importantly, it is not only positive values which result in pro-environment attitudes. For example, self-enhancement values may help promote positive attitude if one learns that their survival is dependent on the environment (Steg et al., 2014). For instance, currently, many countries are struggling to deal with problems of global warming because it affects their survival. Companies, on the other hand, have been compelled to act positively towards the environment because it affects their performance. In all these cases, the dominant value is self-enhancement.

Essentially, there is a consensus that values are significantly related to attitude towards the environment. Self-transcendence values, for instance, results in a positive attitude towards the environment since individuals characterized by these values look beyond personal gains. On the other hand, self-enhancement values lead to a negative attitude towards the environment since they encourage selfishness and focus on self-gratification. However, the existing studies fail to focus on other aspects such as education, which influence the attitude towards the environment. Besides, the studies fail to acknowledge the role of awareness about environmental issues in influencing the attitude and behavior of people towards the environment.

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