People persuasion

Following on from my post yesterday, I came across another article that highlights how people can be persuaded to care more for the planet they inhabit.

Written by Hayley Bennett for the Guardian in November 2017, it discuss the Social Dominance Theory, initiated by psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles in the 1990s, and how it can be applied to how the way people feel about social equality can influence how they feel about, and take action on, environmental causes.

In Bennett’s article, she describes the theory in simple terms as, “…the theory states that people with power will always seek more of the desirable things in life (as they see it) at the expense of their subordinates”. (Bennett, 2017).

She goes on to mention a 25 nation research paper from 2017, On the Relation Between Social Dominance Orientation and Environmentalism.  The overall findings of this indicate that the higher a person’s Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) i.e. how readily they are in accepting social inequality, the less likely they are to support environmental causes. The findings also indicated that countries with better social equality, are more developed and focus on environmental issues have a stronger link between social and environmental attitudes.

A further survey, Income inequality and willingness to pay for environmental public goods, looked at social inequality and the monetary value placed on the natural world. The authors devised a ‘willingness to pay’ model to determine how people value nature. Once more, the more unequal a society the less inclination to be concerned with the environment.

Now, I do think these research papers are a valuable contribution to discovering what makes people tick when it comes to supporting environmental causes, but I don’t believe it takes much deliberation to come to the conclusion that if you are struggling to pay a bill, find food, grow crops, survive a war etc. etc. that the health of the natural world and its longevity is not going to be at the top of your concerns.

What is sad, is that those who have a more secure and pampered way of life seem less inclined to value the world they live in, and derive their material good from.

Heading back to one of the initiators of the Social Dominance Theory, Jim Sidanus, he reaffirms that people simply follow social structures that work for them, which means those who are in a more cosseted position do not want to lose that by living in a more equal society.

So how can people’s support for the environment become a more level playing field. How can my project about a topic that predominantly destroys nature and the homes and livelihoods of people on a ‘lower’ social rung make those benefitting from it open their eyes to its short term gains.

One suggestion by the lead author of the On the Relation Between Social Dominance Orientation and Environmentalism, suggest that in America re-marketing support for the environment to its majority social dominant sector as “patriotic” could be a solution.

Having read Communicating Nature: How We Create and Understand Environmental Messages book Julia B. Corbett, I have learnt plenty about how humans have commodified the natural world. Our leisure time for example is sold to us in a variety of ways. But for me, there is something truly unpleasant about having to market the essential need of simply doing what’s right for the planet, and all species longterm existence on it, as a patriotic duty.

These considerations, albeit very light touch, are part and parcel of why I am basing my work on such a devastating subject. And if it can add to the growing concern about the sand crisis, and encourage debate and change, regardless of a how a person sees their place in their society, it may well be a small psychological and photographic success.


BAUMGARTNER, Stefan, et al. 2017. ‘Income inequality and willingness to pay for environmental public goods’. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. Available at: [accessed April 13, 2018]

BENNETT, Hayley. 2017. ‘Have psychologists found a better way to persuade people to save the planet?’ The Guardian. Available at: [accessed April 13, 2018]

MILFONT, Taciano L, et al. 2017. ‘On the Relation Between Social Dominance Orientation and Environmentalism.’ Social Psychological and Personality Science. Available at: [accessed April 13, 2018]