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Commitment and Intergenerational Influence Promote Recycling in the Family
Author: TANG Jie      Update time: 2022/12/02
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The world is experiencing a fast growth in the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW). It is urgent to provide effective strategies to facilitate actual behavior of waste sorting and recycling. Commitment-making has been found to be a successful strategy in promoting pro-environmental behavior, and it refers to “a pledging or binding of the individual to behavioral acts”. Although research has identified the substantial effects of commitment, it is difficult to extend the impact to other groups, and few focused on the impact of commitment for children. Will the commitment strategy work for both adults and children? How can we keep the commitment’s long-term effect? The present study addressed these questions.

To answer these questions, Prof. HAN Buxin, Dr. LIU Pingping and collaborators from the Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences conducted a field study in a primary school to verify the impact of commitment with some new combination strategies on promoting sorting and recycling in China.

The present study explored the intergenerational influences of school-based interventions on children and their families. Four classes of 180 students (7-8 years) participated in this study. The experiment ran for a total of 28 weeks, including three periods (baseline-intervention-post-intervention). The interventions were designed to be cumulative across signature, activity, copy, and agent (see Figure 1).


Figure 1. Design of the study. Image by TANG Jie.

This study indicates some key findings. First, commitment rate in the agent group was significantly higher than that in other three groups (see Figure 2). The results indicated that being proposed to share with families, children were more inclined to make a commitment.


Figure 2. Children’s commitment rates for treatments. Image by TANG Jie.

Second, weekly weight of recyclables for four treatments showed in the Figure 3. The overall weights of recyclables during the intervention period were significantly higher than those during the baseline period (see Figure 4). In addition, compared with baseline data, we found a marginally significant increase of weights during post-intervention period. These results demonstrated that making commitment did have an effect on shaping recycling behavior, which was most obvious in the intervention period.

Figure 3. Total weight per person of recyclables for time and treatments. Image by TANG Jie.

Figure 4. Weekly weight of recyclables for time and treatments. Image by TANG Jie.

Fourth, only the agent group had a significant increase on the normative beliefs over time, suggesting that the caregivers in the agent group developed stronger normative beliefs about recycling (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Caregivers’ normative beliefs. Image by TANG Jie.

The present study is the first attempt to investigate the intergenerational influence of commitment on primary school students and their families. Remarkably, the strategy combining commitment with intergenerational learning applied in schools is an innovative and promising approach to promote household sorting and recycling. Considering the great potential of direct and indirect impacts of commitment for both the short term and long term, the intergenerational influence of commitment could be utilized in broader prospect and provide implications for policymakers.

This work was published in the Resources, Conservation and Recycling on May 12, 2022, and funded by the Scientific Foundation of Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, the joint program of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Deng, J.#, Tang, J.#, Lu, C., Han, B., & Liu, P*. (2022). Commitment and intergenerational influence: A field study on the role of children in promoting recycling in the family. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 185, 106403. 

LIU Chen
Institute of Psychology
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Beijing 100101, China.
E-mail: liuc@psych.ac.cn

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