Social Norms and Global Environmental Challenges: The Complex Interaction of Behaviors, Values, and Policy

Bioscience. 2013 Mar 1;63(3):164-175. doi: 10.1525/bio.2013.63.3.5.


Government policies are needed when people's behaviors fail to deliver the public good. Those policies will be most effective if they can stimulate long-term changes in beliefs and norms, creating and reinforcing the behaviors needed to solidify and extend the public good.It is often the short-term acceptability of potential policies, rather than their longer-term efficacy, that determines their scope and deployment. The policy process should consider both time scales. The academy, however, has provided insufficient insight on the coevolution of social norms and different policy instruments, thus compromising the capacity of decision makers to craft effective solutions to the society's most intractable environmental problems. Life scientists could make fundamental contributions to this agenda through targeted research on the emergence of social norms.

Keywords: Behavioral science; assessments; interdisciplinary science; policy/ethics; sustainability.