Seeing is believing is doing? : On the role of future-oriented imagination in developing motivation for a sustainable lifestyle
Abstract: The environmental and climate-related sustainability challenges facing the world today are complex, accelerating and urgent, and they call for change from multiple stakeholders. While governments, businesses and other institutions hold a high degree of responsibility for initiating and enabling the necessary change processes towards sustainable practices, so do also individuals and communities. Despite innovative change projects worldwide much remains to be done. However, making changes is difficult for many people, and even more so in situations characterised by uncertainty. In this study the role of future-oriented imagination in motivating changes towards sustainable lifestyles was explored through an experimental intervention design. Test group participants were exposed to a guided imagination of a sustainability scenario in the year 2028, followed by a writing assignment allowing them time to engage with how they see their own future life. The control group spent the same amount of time listening to a guided present-day reflection and writing about their current everyday life. Pre- and post-intervention, both groups completed lifestyle questionnaires. The pre-intervention questionnaire constituted the baseline assessment against which their post-intervention questionnaire results (which was asking both groups to record the lifestyle decisions they thought they would be making in the year 2028 on the same behaviours as in the pre-intervention questionnaire) were compared to check for reported degrees of changes. Besides their expected lifestyle changes, their predicted future personal change and degree of pro-environmental self-identity in the year 2028 was measured. The results show that test group participants, who were exposed to the future-oriented imagination, reported a substantially higher degree of future lifestyle changes and future pro-environmental self-identity than the control group, as well as predicting a higher degree of future personal change. Future-oriented imagination seems to be a potent pathway for eliciting future-oriented sustainability engagement while avoiding some of the risks of negative spillover. This suggests that future-oriented imagination can play an important role in developing motivation for sustainable lifestyle changes, and that it can be a complement to other psychological drivers for pro-environmental behaviours.
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